The Delta variant is like “Covid on steroids”, said a former White House Covid adviser, which is not the most consoling image given we are in a race against it to get fully vaccinated in case it gathers more speed here.
The variant has already led to tougher quarantine rules for people coming here from Britain and it could prompt advice against non-essential travel to Northern Ireland.
Another steep rise in weekly reported cases was announced in Britain yesterday. So what do we know about this variant?
The variant which is around 64pc more transmissible has now been detected in around 74 countries and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday it is becoming globally dominant. It accounts for around 90pc of cases in the UK. Here, 188 cases have been found, making up 5pc of samples that are analysed for variants. However, it has climbed to 25pc in Northern Ireland, with some 254 cases. Derry has been identified as an area with a higher incidence. The progress of the variant here has slowed so the measures in place, as well as tracking by public health doctors, are working.
Public Health England says that it is encouraging to see that hospitalisations and deaths are not rising at the same rate as cases, although it needs to be monitored closely. Vaccination with two doses provides very good defence. The Pfizer vaccine is 96pc effective against hospitalisation and AstraZeneca 92pc.But since February in the UK there have been 73 deaths with the Delta variant, 34 of which were among unvaccinated people. Of these, 11 had one vaccine dose and 26 had two doses.
Just 7.7pc of the 53,163 Delta infections examined in the UK happened in people who had both Covid jabs at least 14 days before. This compared to 66.8pc in unvaccinated people. We now know that those who have had no vaccine are most at risk of catching the variant, while one jab provides protection at around 30pc to 36pc.
Two thirds of the adult population here are still at risk. They are either partially vaccinated with one dose or are still waiting for a jab. So far around one third have two doses. Registration for a vaccine for people aged 35 to 39 opens tomorrow.
July will provide the summer’s biggest test so far to shields we have built to slow down the march of the variant with foreign travel under the EU’s Digital Cert and the reopening of indoor hospitality in restaurants and pubs.
But thanks to some great surveillance and science in the UK, we will also know a lot more about the variant at that stage. Everyone here in their 60s will have got a second jab by the week starting July 19. Around 80pc of people who are getting the virus here now are under 45 and they are at lower risk of getting sick.
But this will also not be the last variant we face due to delay in global vaccination, which will take at least another year.