The latest alarming coronavirus variant is exploiting low global vaccination rates and a rush to ease pandemic restrictions, adding new urgency to the drive to get more shots in arms and slow its supercharged spread.
The vaccines most used in Western countries still appear to offer strong protection against the highly contagious delta variant, first identified in India and now spreading in more than 90 other countries.
But the World Health Organization warned this week that the trifecta of easier-to-spread strains, insufficiently immunized populations and a drop in mask use and other public health measures before the virus is better contained will “delay the end of the pandemic.”
The delta variant is positioned to take full advantage of those chinks in any country’s armor.
“Widespread vaccination remains even more critical, because the virus that we have circulating is in fact more transmissible than the original wild type,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Amid concerns about the variant’s spread, parts of Europe have reinstated travel quarantines, several Australian cities are in outbreak-sparked lockdowns — and just as Japan readies for the Olympics, some visiting athletes are infected. The mutation is causing worry even in countries with relatively successful immunization campaigns that nonetheless haven’t reached enough people to snuff out the virus.
For instance, the mutant has forced Britain, where nearly half the population is fully vaccinated, to postpone for a month its long-anticipated lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, as cases are doubling about every nine days.
In the U.S., “we’re still vulnerable for these flare-ups and rebounds,” said Dr. Hilary Babcock of Washington University at St. Louis.
The variants “are able to find any gaps in our protection,” she said, pointing to how hospital beds and intensive care units in Missouri’s least-vaccinated southwestern counties suddenly are filling — mostly with adults under 40 who never got the shots. With nearly half the U.S. population immunized, CDC tracking shows the variant spreading most quickly in swaths of the country with the lowest rates.
But the variant poses the most danger in countries where vaccinations are sparse. Africa is seeing cases rise faster than ever before, partially driven by the mutation, the WHO said Thursday, while areas in Bangladesh that border India are also seeing a variant-fueled surge. Fiji, which got through the first year of the pandemic without just two virus deaths, is now experiencing a significant outbreak blamed on the strain, and Afghanistan is desperately seeking oxygen supplies because of it.
The delta variant remains far from the only version of the coronavirus that’s spreading — and you don’t want to catch any kind. Here’s what scientists know so far:
EASIER SPREAD IS THE CHIEF THREAT
Scientists believe the delta variant is about 50% more transmissible than other types. Researchers are just beginning to tease apart why. But there are early clues that some mutations may ease a key step in how the virus slips inside human cells, said Priyamvada Acharya, a structural biologist at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.
Still, it’s not clear if higher contagion is the whole reason the variant is spreading so quickly. In Britain, its rise followed a loosening of restrictions in May, when restaurants, gyms and other businesses reopened, and thousands of fans have attended sports events.
IS IT MORE DANGEROUS?
It’s harder to tell if the delta variant makes people sicker. British experts have said there are some preliminary signs it may increase hospitalization, but there’s no evidence it is more lethal.
It fueled a devastating COVID-19 surge in India in February, and “this time around we had a lot more people who were very sick compared to before,” said Dr. Jacob John of Christian Medical College at Vellore. But he cautioned that the “explosion” of cases didn’t necessarily mean this version was more dangerous, as more cases usually mean more hospitalizations.
THE BEST PROTECTION IS FULL VACCINATION
British researchers found two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or the AstraZeneca one were only slightly less effective at blocking symptomatic illness from the delta variant than from earlier mutations — and importantly, remain hugely protective at preventing hospitalization.
But there’s an important catch: Just one dose proved far less effective against the delta variant than against earlier versions of the virus. That has prompted Britain, which originally extended the gap between doses, to speed up second shots.
There’s little information on whether the delta variant can escape other vaccines, such as ones developed in China or Russia.
Experts say the Moderna vaccine, the same type as Pfizer’s, should be similarly protective. Johnson & Johnson still is studying how its one-dose vaccine fares against the variant. The company notes its shot does protect against a different worrisome mutant — the so-called beta variant that emerged in South Africa and is still considered the biggest challenge for today’s COVID-19 vaccines.
WHAT ABOUT MASKS?
The WHO has urged governments not to lift pandemic restrictions too quickly — including saying everyone, even the vaccinated, should continue to wear masks given that the delta variant spreads more easily and no vaccine is 100% effective.
In the U.S., the CDC says the fully vaccinated can go mask-free. But there’s no way to know if maskless people really are vaccinated and local governments can set tighter guidelines. This week, with the delta variant spreading locally, health officials in Los Angeles County said they still recommend masks indoors in public places for everyone.
If that’s confusing, consider that the more the virus is spreading in a particular area, the more risk even the vaccinated have of getting a mild or asymptomatic infection they could spread to someone not protected — such as children too young to qualify for the shots.
In Missouri, fully vaccinated Babcock makes sure she has a mask to pop on quickly if she runs into a crowd: “I feel like my new normal is holding a mask in my hand, ready to put it on if I need it.“
Associated Press writers Maria Cheng in London and Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi contributed to this report.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
COVID-19 in B.C.: Over 200 new cases and over 1000 active cases; Fraser Health shifts to vaccine hubs; and more – The Georgia Straight
Today’s total and new case numbers are provisional but they are concerning.
Both new and active cases continue to rise and hit new highs in recent weeks, with the bulk of both of them still in Interior Health—which continues to have more new and active cases than both Fraser and Vancovuer Coastal Health combined.
Meanwhile, like the last heat wave, some immunization clinics may be affected by the high temperatures and at least one is already being relocated.
According to the B.C. Health Ministry, the following numbers for total and new cases are provisional due to a delayed data refresh.
For now, the B.C. Health Ministry is reporting 204 new COVID-19 cases today.
Currently, there are 1,055 active cases, which is an increase of 146 cases since yesterday.
The new and active cases include:
- 107 new cases in Interior Health, with 600 total active cases (an increase of 97 cases since yesterday);
- 58 new cases in Fraser Health, with 241 total active cases (33 more cases than yesterday);
- 23 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, with 139 total active cases (three more cases than yesterday);
- 14 new cases in Island Health, with 51 total active cases (10 more cases than yesterday);
- two new cases in Northern Health, with 19 total active cases (three more cases than yesterday);
- no new cases of people from outside of Canada, with five total active cases (same number as yesterday).
At the moment, 51 individuals are in hospital (four more people than yesterday), and 20 of those patients are in intensive care units (same number as yesterday).
Thankfully, no new COVID-19-related deaths have been reported, which leaves the overall total at 1,771 people who have died during the pandemic.
With 54 recoveries since yesterday, a cumulative total of 146,810 people have now recovered.
During the pandemic, B.C. has recorded a cumulative total of 149,648 cases.
The forecast heat wave may cause some clinics to be relocated again, as they were during the previous heat wave in June.
In preparation for the expected high temperatures this weekend, Island Health announced today that it will move the Eagle Ridge immunization clinic to the air-conditioned Victoria Conference Centre (720 Douglas Street, Victoria) tomorrow (July 30).
Also tomorrow, Island Health will hold a pop-up clinic from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Starlight Stadium (1089 Langford Parkway) in Langford, during the game between Victoria’s Pacific FC and Calgary’s Cavalry FC.
Meanwhile, Fraser Health announced today that it has now administered over two million vaccine doses—80 percent of eligible people in the region have received at least one dose, and over 60 percent have received their second dose.
Consequently, as of tomorrow (July 29), Fraser Health is transitioning from a network of immunization clinics to establishing four main hubs at existing clinics at:
- Ag-Rec Centre (32470 Haida Drive) in Abbotsford (for both COVID-19 testing and immunizations);
- Poirier Forum (618 Poirier Street) in Coqutilam;
- Guildford Rec Centre (15105 105th Avenue) in Surrey;
- North Delta Rec Centre (11415 84th Avenue) in Delta.
Immunization will also continue to be available at COVID-19 testing and immunization centres in Hope, Chilliwack, Mission, Langley, South Delta, South Surrey, Surrey 66, Coquitlam, and Burnaby. In addition, Fraser Health will continue to hold pop-up and mobile clinics, outreach clinics, and community initiatives (such as beachside clinics) to ensure easy access to immunizations.
The following clinics, however, will be closed on the dates listed below:
- July 28: South Surrey Rec Centre and Chuck Bailey Rec Centre;
- August 1: Abbotsford test collection centre at the University of the Fraser Valley will close and testing will relocate to Abbotsford Ag Rec;
- August 7: Agassiz Agricultural Hall, Langley Events Centre, Anvil Centre, and Christine Sinclair Community Centre;
- August 14: Chilliwack Mall, Hope Legion, Cloverdale Rec Centre, Surrey North, and Haney Place Mall;
- August 30: Mamele’awt Community Indigenous Centre, Stó:lō Service Agency, Fraser River Indigenous Society, Mission Friendship Centre, Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre.
As part of its effort to increase vaccinations amid the recently declared outbreak in the Central Okanagan, Interior Health will hold pop-up immunization clinics from 3 to 7 p.m. from Friday (July 30) to Wednesday (August 4) at the Kelowna Yacht Club (1370 Water Street) in Kelowna, and vaccinations are available for eligible drop-in visitors.
In the ongoing provincial immunization program so far, B.C. has administered 6,732,309 doses of Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines.
As of today, 81 percent (3,753,057) of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose and 64.1 percent (2,971,793) have received their second dose.
In addition, 81.9 percent (3,543,503) of all eligible adults in B.C. have received their first dose and 66.8 percent (2,890,948) have received their second dose.
None of the five regional health authorities declared any new healthcare or community outbreaks, or listed any new business closures or public exposure events.
Currently, there are two active healthcare outbreaks, both in longterm care facilities: Holyrood Manor (Fraser Health) and Nelson Jubilee Manor (Interior Health).
No changes expected as COVID-19 cases surge in Central Okanagan: Kelowna airport – Revelstoke Review – Revelstoke Review
With new restrictions announced specifically for the Central Okanagan today (July 28), the Kelowna International Airport (YLW) said they are not expecting any changes to their operations.
Senior manager of airport operations Phillip Elchitz said that with the COVID-19 safety plan already in place at YLW, they don’t expect much more to change.
Elchitz also said that they’re not expecting much impact on passenger numbers because of the new restrictions.
“YLW is not anticipating a reduction in commercial scheduled flights as a result of the new provincial health guidelines specific to the Central Okanagan,” he said.
“YLW currently has a mandatory mask policy in place for all areas of the Air Terminal Building and on aircrafts due to Transport Canada requirements.”
Individual passenger temperature is also checked just before they go through security as an added safety measure.
Earlier in the afternoon on July 28, the province announced that masks will be mandatory again in indoor public spaces throughout the Central Okanagan, which includes Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland and Lake Country.
The province is also discouraging non-essential travel to and from the Central Okanagan, especially for those who are not vaccinated or who don’t have both doses yet.
Nenshi says lifting Alberta’s remaining COVID-19 health orders is the ‘height of insanity’ – Global News
The mayor of Calgary says it’s the “height of insanity” that Alberta is moving ahead with removing almost all of its remaining COVID-19 public health orders, even as cases climb in the province.
Alberta has ended isolation requirements for close contacts of people who test positive and contact tracers will no longer notify them of their exposure. The province has also ended asymptomatic testing.
Further measures are to be eliminated Aug. 16. People who test positive will no longer be required to isolate. Isolation hotels will close as quarantine supports end.
“It is inconceivable to me. It is the height of insanity to say we don’t even know what’s happening,” Nenshi said Thursday.
“It is putting the health of Albertans at risk. To stop contact tracing, to stop testing people for the coronavirus and to become one of the first _ if not the first — jurisdictions in the world to say that people who have tested positive, who are infectious, can just go about their lives.”
Majority of Canadians worried about lingering COVID-19 threat, according to poll
Naheed Nenshi, who was making an announcement at the Calgary airport, said if he were in another jurisdiction he would be thinking hard whether to put travel restrictions on Albertans starting Aug. 16.
“I’m aware of no science that backs this up. It is clear for the last month or so on this file (that) our government has been grasping and struggling, just trying to get some good news out of something,” he said.
“To say we don’t want to know who has the coronavirus, we don’t want to track outbreaks. Even the most fervent of the anti-maskers wouldn’t say (to) unleash people who are actually infectious into the population.”
Nenshi said he worries that the decision to lift the health orders is politically motivated and has nothing to do with science at all.
“The only possible explanation here is a political one. It might be that they’ve run out of money, but you know what? Don’t spend $1.5 billion on a pipeline you know isn’t going to get built if you’re running out of money.”
© 2021 The Canadian Press
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