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'No reason it wouldn't become the dominant strain': Here's all the latest on the Delta variant

There are 210 confirmed cases of Delta in Ireland – and ‘as sure as night follows day, this is going to go in one particular direction’.

Dr Colm Henry at yesterday's HSE briefing
Dr Colm Henry at yesterday's HSE briefing
Image: Sasko Lazarov/

IT’S A MATTER of when, not a question of if, the Delta variant will become the dominant strain of Covid-19 in Ireland, public health experts believe.

The European Centre for Disease and Prevention Control (ECDC) forecasts that 70% of new infections in the EU will be due to the variant by the start of August and 90% by the end.

In several other European countries, the Delta variant is already rapidly becoming the dominant strain, and it appears that Ireland isn’t far behind.

At a media briefing yesterday afternoon, the HSE outlined the latest information about the variant in Ireland – here’s what you need to know.

As of 22 June, there are 210 confirmed cases of Delta in Ireland.

These are identified through a process called full genomic sequencing, which takes several weeks, meaning that there is a delay between taking a positive test swab and getting confirmation that it was due to Delta or another variant.

It’s estimated that over 20% of new Covid-19 cases in Ireland are a result of Delta.

“There’s no doubt, as sure as night follows day, this is going to go in one particular direction,” HSE CEO Paul Reid said.

“If we ever needed encouragement and a rationale as to why we all need to stick to the public health measures and continue to embrace them, we now have it in spades,” Reid said.

Vaccines are definitely winning against the virus, but by any stretch, it’s far too early to be declaring victory, or indeed taking a lap of honour at this stage.”

Among the existing cases, 51% were transmitted through close contact with an infected person in a range of settings and 27% were related to travel.

16% occurred through community transmission, only 1% were in health settings, and 5% are still under investigation.

The mean age of the people who have one of the 210 confirmed cases is 31.

The government will have to decide soon whether to proceed with the next stage of lifting restrictions on 5 July or to pull back on reopening plans over concerns of the variant spreading further.

The HSE’s advice to the government will be that health workers are exhausted and that we “can’t let it happen again what happened to our health service going back to the dark days of January and February”, Reid said.

The UK, Portugal and Russia have seen new Delta cases far overtake cases of other variants, while countries like Italy, Belgium, and the US are seeing Delta rise as other variants decline.

60% of new Covid-19 cases in the Lisbon region of Portugal are now the Delta variant.

Delta Spread HSE Source: HSE

HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said there is “no reason it wouldn’t become the dominant strain based on what we know about its behaviour elsewhere, where it’s rapidly displaced the other existing variants”.

“I don’t think any of us believe that we’re going to stick at 200 cases in this country based on the pattern abroad and based on the observed patterns of transmission of this variant,” Henry said.

“There’s no reason why it should not accelerate and displace all the other variants we have here,” he said.

“The only question is how quickly it can do that against our vaccination programme, which is well into people in their 40s and 30s, which we know, once fully protected with two vaccines, it will give them great protection against some serious effects of this variant.”

 In Northern Ireland, half of positive Covid-19 cases that have been sampled indicate the presence of the Delta variant.

Over 600 confirmed or probable cases of the variant have been identified in the North.

The ECDC is warning that the variant is likely to “circulate extensively during the summer, particularly among younger individuals that are not targeted for vaccination”.

Nearly 3.8 million vaccine doses have been administered in Ireland to date. 61.4% of the eligible population have received at least one dose, while 36.8% have received two doses.

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The total number of people who are fully vaccinated is slightly higher than the second dose figure as some of the single-dose Janssen vaccines are included in the first dose count.

This week’s episode of The Explainer features virologist Kim Roberts and senior reporter Michelle Hennessy explaining what we know right now about the Delta variant. 

Don’t forget that you can now listen to the podcast directly from your app – here’s how. 

Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

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Lauren Boland

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