Opinion: The delta variant is bringing back the dark clouds of last year

THE DELTA variant is raining on our parade. Just when many people want to celebrate a return to normalcy, confident of vaccine protection, the delta variant is bringing back the dark clouds of last year. In the United States, face masks and social distancing are being recommended anew, while around the world, lockdowns and travel bans are back in the fight against this highly-transmissible variant, a particular threat to the unvaccinated and a reminder that covid-19 will indeed be a long haul.

The good news is that vaccines, the most important measure to fight the virus, are holding the line for those who have received them. Research so far suggests delta is between 40 and 60 percent more transmissible than the alpha variant first identified in the United Kingdom, which was 50 percent more transmissible than the original virus. Those without vaccines are in serious jeopardy. Hospital admissions for covid-19 around the country are largely made up of the unvaccinated. “This is a pandemic of unvaccinated people,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week.

Yet even those who have received a full vaccine dose are more and more often hearing advice to resume taking precautions. On Monday, Los Angeles County recommended that everyone wear masks in public indoor spaces, even though more than 54 percent of California’s population over age 12 is fully vaccinated. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) made a similar suggestion; 53.7 percent of the state’s population over 12 has been fully inoculated. “I would say from my own perspective, if you’re going into a heavily crowded area, you don’t know if somebody is not vaccinated and so you should just bring your mask with you and keep safe,” Mr. Pritzker said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has previously said that the fully vaccinated can do without masks, but on Friday, the World Health Organization urged fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks, social distance and practice other mitigations. These shifts back to earlier measures ought not provoke fury and resistance. As the virus changes, so will measures to fight it.

Delta, now about 20 percent of the cases in the United States, may become predominant in a matter of weeks and has spread swiftly elsewhere. In the face of a surge of delta cases, doubling every few days, Israel reinstated its mask mandate 10 days after lifting it. Major cities in Australia, including Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne, are under lockdown because of delta. Cases are skyrocketing in Russia again, which has a low vaccination uptake. In Africa, a third wave is rapidly gaining steam, with cases rising for five consecutive weeks, and delta has been detected in 14 countries.

What delta means is that the battle against the coronavirus will be ongoing for some time, possibly years. We have to be flexible and determined, using all the tools available. Most obviously, when we have a tool that works and a vaccine, why would we not take full advantage?


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