Europe races against time to beat threat from Covid-19 Delta variant

Health agency says the mutation will account for 90% of EU cases by end of August

A patient suspected of having coronavirus is transferred at a hospital in Kommunarka, outside Moscow, Russia. The country has seen a record number of Covid-19 deaths this week. AP
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Countries across Europe are racing to speed up coronavirus vaccine drives, as the Delta variant threatens to overwhelm health systems.

The risk of infection from the highly contagious Delta strain is “high to very high” for partially or unvaccinated communities, according to the European Centre for Disease Control, which monitors 30 countries.

Incentives for people to get inoculated have included free groceries and travel vouchers, while governments are also appealing to patriotic duty.

Portuguese health authorities have reported a “vertiginous” rise in the Delta variant, which accounted for 4 per cent of cases in May but almost 56 per cent in June.

They have extended the hours of vaccination centres, created new walk-in clinics, called up armed forces personnel to help run operations, and reduced the period between taking the two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to eight weeks.

In Russia, reported new infections more than doubled in June, topping 20,000 a day this week. A record 679 deaths were reported on Friday – the fourth consecutive day for a record number of fatalities.

Moscow restaurants and cafes on Monday began admitting only customers who have been vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months or can provide a negative test from the previous 72 hours.

In Spain, the national 14-day case notification rate per 100,000 people rose to 152 on Friday but there is particular concern for the 20-29 age group, where the rate shot up to 449.

The Netherlands is extending its vaccination programme to children aged 12-17 to help head off a feared new surge.

Greece is offering young adults €150 ($177) in credit after their first jab, Poland launched a lottery with cars as prizes and in Italy, Rome is considering deploying vaccination vans to inoculate people at the beach.

“It is very important to progress with the vaccine rollout at a very high pace,” the ECDC warned.

It estimated that by the end of August, the Delta variant, first seen in India, will account for 90 per cent of cases in the EU.

Public Health England figures show 161,981 confirmed and probable cases of Delta variant have been identified in the UK – up by 50,824, or 46 per cent, on the previous week.

The Delta variant now accounts for approximately 95 per cent of confirmed cases in the UK.

France lifted the last of its major restrictions on Wednesday, allowing unlimited numbers in restaurants, at weddings and most cultural events, despite fast-rising cases of the Delta variant.

The ECDC says that in the countries it surveys, 61 per cent of people over 18 have had one dose and 40 per cent are completely vaccinated.

But Dr Hans Kluge, head of the World Health Organisation’s Europe office, cautioned that while the Delta variant was poised to become dominant in the 53-country region his office covers, 63 per cent of people there have not had a first vaccine.

Updated: July 03, 2021, 1:45 PM