SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant now dominant in much of European region; efforts must be reinforced to prevent transmission, warns WHO Regional Office for Europe and ECDC
Copenhagen/Stockholm, 23 July 2021 – The SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant of concern is moving fast across Europe and has now become the most dominant strain across much of the region, based on new data.
Surveillance data reported to the WHO Regional Office for Europe and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) shows that between 28 June and 11 July 2021 the Delta variant was dominant in the majority (19 countries) of the 28 countries who reported sufficiently complete genetic sequencing information. Of these 19 countries, the median proportion of all nationally sequenced virus isolates detected that were Delta was 68.3%, overtaking that for the previously dominant Alpha variant (22.3%) across the region.
Based on current trends, the Delta variant will be the globally dominant strain over the coming months and has already been identified in almost all European countries. It will continue to spread, displacing the circulation of other variants unless a new more competitive virus emerges.
Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe said, “We are far from out of the woods in terms of the pandemic ending and sadly in many countries in our region we’re seeing a significant rise in cases associated with the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant. Despite tremendous efforts by Member States to vaccinate people across the region, millions more remain unvaccinated and therefore at risk of ending up in hospital.
“The good news is that the data clearly shows that receiving a full vaccination series significantly reduces the risk of severe disease and death. When called to do so, people should get vaccinated.”
Dr Andrea Ammon, ECDC Director said, “We need to remain vigilant and continue to use common sense to prevent the spread of the virus. This means getting a full course of vaccination as soon as the opportunity arises and maintaining physical distancing, washing hands, avoiding crowded spaces, and wearing a mask when necessary. These are measures that we know work to protect ourselves and others.
“We should think of these as ‘anti-lockdown measures’ because they can help prevent the spread of disease without having to shut down large parts of society.”
WHO and ECDC urge priority groups, such as older people, people with chronic diseases and health-care workers to receive a complete COVID-19 vaccine course to protect themselves, and the vulnerable people they come in contact with, from severe disease.
In addition, fast rollout of vaccination to all groups that are eligible for vaccination is strongly recommended. Where the Delta variant of concern is spreading, intensive implementation of current public health measures, including increased access to testing, will be required to control COVID-19 transmission, particularly while vaccination progress is still not sufficiently high in many countries.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are rising across Europe with new COVID-19 cases rising each week for the past four weeks. Notification rates have increased across all age groups, but most rapidly among 15–24-year-olds, where a five-fold increase in reported cases has been observed over the past month.
Dr Kluge has a clear message for those countries in the Europe region easing public health and social measures. “WHO recommends that countries increase access to free of charge testing, expand sequencing, incentivize quarantine for contacts and isolation for confirmed cases, strengthen contact tracing to break chains of transmission and ensure those most at risk among our populations are vaccinated.”
To help reduce the risk of being infected with the virus this summer, follow the WHO Regional Office for Europe’s #SummerSense practical measures.
Travel is not risk free. Travelling and gathering can increase your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. If you want to travel, think about the need and assess your risks. Your decision counts for ending this pandemic. If you decide to travel and gather, do it safely:
- Remember the 3 Ws – wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.
- Measure your risk door to door: from the moment you close the door of your place to the moment you open it again, assess step by step the risk you are exposed to and take the right precautions. Cleaning hands frequently, keeping a safe distance and wearing a mask are proven to protect you.
- Avoid the three Cs; more than the travel itself, it is the place that matters. Settings that are Closed, Confined or Crowded, will put you at higher risk of being infected with COVID-19. Choose open, ventilated settings, keep at least one-meter distance from others, and wear your mask. In many settings it might be impossible to avoid all three Cs.