A COVID-19 variant — the Delta variant — is quickly becoming the most widely spread strain of the virus across the globe, with rising cases in China and the United Kingdom. First detected in India, over 100 new cases caused by the Delta strain — also known as B.1.617.2 — have been reported in China's Guangdong province. Meanwhile, British health minister Matt Hancock has reported that the newest iteration of the virus is 40% more transmissible than B.1.1.7, the previous strain that was widely spread in the U.K.
With the Delta variant proving itself to be a bigger concern than previously thought — sending areas of the world back into lockdown and potentially causing countries with little to no vaccinations to be at risk for increased infections — the question is: How dangerous is it, really?
The speed at which the Delta variant is being spread throughout different countries is the reason why health officials are concerned over its existence: it's a strain that is proving to be more transmissible than any of the viral strains that came before it. According to Professor Neil Ferguson, a leading epidemiologist at Imperial College London, Delta is 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which itself is already more transmissible than the original COVID-19 variant that emerged from Wuhan, China in 2019.
While Public Health England has declared the Delta variant to be the most dominant strain in the U.K., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization haven’t officially announced that the Delta variant is the most transmissible strain of the virus to date. The number of cases caused by the strain, however, speak for themselves.
The Delta variant was first discovered in India in December 2020 and was reported to be the cause of 60% of positive cases in New Delhi back in April, according to India's The Tribune. The mutation has also overtaken the Alpha variant, B.1.1.7, as the leading strain found in positive cases in the United Kingdom; the former was the strain that initially sent the country into lockdown in January. Outside of the U.K., the Delta variant has already spread to 62 countries, including the United States and Australia, where an outbreak in Melbourne containing the new Delta strain is currently taking place.
Due to the fairly new nature of the strain, it's unclear whether the COVID-19 vaccine can fully protect people against it. World leaders are currently only speculating, with Hancock stating that those who have received two doses of the vaccine should be protected against the Delta and the Alpha variants, Al Jazeera reports.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, those who contract the strain can attribute it to a "potential reduction in neutralization by post-vaccination sera," as well as a "potential reduction in neutralization by some EUA monoclonal antibody treatments." Because of this, the goal of world and health leaders once again becomes to get as many people vaccinated as they can so some sort of protection against coronavirus strains exists.
Cardiologist Eric Topol echoed his faith in vaccines on Twitter while sharing more information on the Delta variant, stating simply that "Vaccines work."