Delta variant may account for almost 70% of cases in Ireland, Nphet says

Highly transmissible strain was linked to just 9% of infections three weeks ago

Delta variant is suspected to now account for nearly 70 per cent of new Covid cases in the State

Delta variant is suspected to now account for nearly 70 per cent of new Covid cases in the State

 

The highly transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19 is suspected to now account for nearly 70 per cent of new cases in the State, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has said.

Cillian de Gascun, director of UCD’s National Virus Reference Laboratory, said the most up-to-date figures showed the new variant “appears to be approaching 70 per cent” of cases in the Republic.

Speaking at a Nphet briefing on Thursday, Dr de Gascun said that figure came with a “caveat” as it was based on “half a week’s data’’.

The final figures for the suspected spread of the variant for this current week would be available on Monday, he said.

The portion of the new cases attributed to the variant has significantly increased over the last four weeks. Three weeks ago the variant accounted for 9 per cent of new cases, which increased to 28 per cent the following week, and 55 per cent of cases last week, Dr de Gascun said.

“If we look at the preliminary data for the first half of this week it is up around 70 per cent,” he told the briefing.

Risk assessments

Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, said he had long described the Delta variant as a “black cloud” on the horizon, and that Nphet had conducted several risk assessments about its potential spread.

The situation had remained relatively stable until recent weeks when “it began to move,” and the number of Delta Covid-19 cases started to rise, he said.

Stark warnings provided by Nphet earlier this week about a potential surge in cases due to the variant led the Government to postpone the planned reopening of indoor hospitality and dining.

“We are facing a significant wave of Delta-driven transmission and we are going to be in the same situation in that respect as all of the rest of western Europe,” Dr Holohan told the Nphet briefing.

“We are not going to stop this happening, this variant has sufficient, in the way of fitness, to become the dominant strain . . .it was a question of when rather than if,” he said.

The country was now “poised” to start to see a rise in the overall incidence rate of the virus, due to the spread of the variant, he said.

Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the Nphet epidemiological modelling advisory group, said Ireland was on the cusp of a fresh wave and the only unknowns were how big it might get and what effect it would have in terms of hospital admissions.

“We have to be concerned that we are at the beginning of an increase in incidents driven by the Delta variant,” Prof Nolan said. “That presents significant dangers to the unvaccinated population and to the partially vaccinated population,” he said.

Severity

Speaking in the Dáil on Friday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said some analysis suggested the Delta variant was about as severe as the Alpha variant, which emerged in the UK before Christmas and prompted Ireland’s third wave of the disease, in terms of the likelihood of an infected person being hospitalised.

He said there was also analysis suggesting that it could be 2½ times more likely to lead to hospitalisation.

“So obviously accelerating and making the vaccines we have available to younger people in the face of that threat I believe is very important,” he said.