Delta variant predicted to cause nine out of 10 Covid infections in Europe

Warning puts pressure on Government’s summer reopening plans and vaccine rollout

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned the spread ‘could cause a risk for the more vulnerable individuals to be infected and experience severe illness and death if they are not fully vaccinated. File photograph: Bloomberg

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned the spread ‘could cause a risk for the more vulnerable individuals to be infected and experience severe illness and death if they are not fully vaccinated. File photograph: Bloomberg

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Some 90 per cent of Covid infections across Europe will be caused by the aggressive Delta strain of coronavirus by the end of August, European health authorities have warned, in a forecast that will put pressure on the Government’s summer reopening plans.

The warning is also set to increase focus on the State’s vaccination programme, given the Delta strain is between 40 and 60 per cent more infectious than the strain currently dominant here.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned the spread “could cause a risk for the more vulnerable individuals to be infected and experience severe illness and death if they are not fully vaccinated”.

Government sources believe another wave of disease, caused by the variant, is likely across Europe, including Ireland. However, the impact can be reduced by the vaccine rollout and some lingering restrictions on social life.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has been told to have key advice on what can be done in the next stage of reopening ready for next Wednesday, a day ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar indicated that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) has been asked whether younger people could be given the AstraZeneca vaccine, to avoid unused stockpiles building up and to sustain pace in the vaccine programme. It is thought that vaccine mixing is also set to be examined by the watchdog, which is not scheduled to meet until early next week.

Darkened mood

Across Europe, the mood has darkened towards summer travel and reopening plans as EU national leaders prepare to meet in Brussels on Thursday.

The 27 are expected to agree that they must “remain vigilant and co-ordinated with regard to developments, particularly the emergence and spread of variants”, according to draft summit conclusions.

Member states are split on the issue, with tourism-dependent countries keen to attract visitors while many northern states are more cautious.

Pressure is rising, however, on summer holiday destinations to carefully control travel from Britain, where the Delta variant now makes up almost all Covid-19 cases and has delayed reopening plans. German chancellor Angela Merkel raised the prospect of tighter checks on UK travellers, telling parliament ahead of the summit: “In our country, if you come from Great Britain, you have to go into quarantine – and that’s not the case in every European country, and that’s what I would like to see.”

The Government here is facing pressure from within and from the hospitality industry to provide certainty and prove that a degree of normality can coexist alongside the virus.

‘Yo-yo’

At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday, a number of Oireachtas members including Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan, Carlow-Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan and Senator Barry Ward spoke of the need for Government policy to find a way for the country to live with variant. Sources said Mr O’Donovan told the meeting that the country can’t be shut down in a “yo-yo” way.

Mr Ward told colleagues that the Government must listen to expert medical advice but has to weigh this against other factors such as the overall impact on society and the economy, and the Coalition must be “seen to govern”.

Mr Varadkar told the meeting that Delta is a “big concern” and the situation in the UK is “worrying”, but that the vaccine rollout is “powering ahead”.

Senior officials and politicians met across the day on Wednesday to discuss the situation. However, key decisions will not be made until next week, after Nphet meets.

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