COVID VARIANTS

Delta Covid variant 60 percent more transmissible, say UK health authorities

REUTERS - BENOIT TESSIER

The British government has said the so-called Delta coronavirus variant, first detected in India, is 60 percent more transmissible in households than the variant that forced the United Kingdom to lock down in January.

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The Delta variant has caused a rise in cases in the UK, prompting questions about whether social distancing restrictions will be lifted as planned from 21 June.

New research from Public Health England "suggests that the Delta variant is associated with an approximately 60 percent increased risk of household transmission" compared to the Alpha variant, which was first identified in Kent, southeast England.

The variant caused a surge of Covid cases in January leading to a three-month lockdown as hospitals were stretched to near-capacity.

The UK government ramped up its public vaccination drive in response, and has now given two doses of vaccine to nearly 29 million adults and one dose to nearly 41 million.

Delta now causing 90 percent of infections

The UK's Daily cases rose to 7,393 on Thursday – a level not seen since February. More than 90 percent of new cases were of the Delta variant, ministers said.

However the number of patients in hospital remains low, at just over 1,000 on Thursday, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said most of those hospitalised had not received any vaccine.

This suggests that the vaccination programme is mitigating the impact of the Delta variant, according to the government, which urged the public to get both jabs.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said that "two doses provide significantly more protection" against the Delta variant than one.

The UK has reported 127,867 deaths from the virus, the worst toll in Europe.

Under current government projections, England plans to drop rules limiting numbers at social gatherings and allow large weddings and reopening of nightclubs from 21 June.

But officials have stressed that they are open to changing this date if the virus situation changes. A decision will be announced next week.

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