The latest wave of the coronavirus outbreak caused by the Delta variant may be too contagious for existing social distancing measures, experts say.
The latest data reported by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) this week adds to these findings, with researchers telling the paper that the Delta variant may be so transmissible that they are “worried the virus could leak out easier and require harsher lockdowns.”
As of June 22, 2021, more than 4,500 sequences of the variant have been detected in at least 78 countries, including Thailand.
Hotel quarantines, according to the WSJ article, may no longer suffice.
Researchers cite a case in Australia where two people who quarantined in adjacent hotel rooms and opened doors within seconds of one another to fetch their meals was infected with the Delta variant.
This led to another outbreak and lockdown Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest metropolis. Health authorities believe that those brief seconds of exchange from one hotel room to another could have been enough for the virus to spread via airborne transmission.
On June 28, Australia locked down two more of its major cities – Sydney and Darwin – due to the Delta variant.
Japan’s Olympic ban
Japan, which is set to host this summer’s Olympics, is also going through another emergency due to the highly infectious Delta variant outbreak.
Last Thursday, the organizers revised previous plans and said that the Olympics will now take place “without spectators” in Tokyo, as the country has once again declared a state of emergency in the capital.
Citizens are also being told to not gather for events in public spaces such as the triathlon, although some venues outside the capital may allow some spectators.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga explained that it was especially vital that Tokyo, where the Delta variant is now spreading rapidly, does not become the new epicentre of another outbreak.
There are also concerns that with the rate of infections soaring in the capital right now, the virus could also spread to the rest of the country, the Prime Minister added.
“We absolutely must avoid Tokyo being the starting point again of another spread of the infection,” Suga said.
Israel’s new strategy
Israel, for the majority of the past two years, was incredibly successful in containing the virus and rolling out the vaccine. The country has been at the heart of what analysts say is “one of the world’s fastest vaccination programmes.”
But 10 days after it had ditched its mask-wearing policy and celebrated its no social distancing, Israeli authorities reversed course on June 24 on mask wearing due to the spread of the Delta variant.
The recent surge of the Delta variant has had authorities concerned that even its vaccination drive, which was able to control the virus for the most part of the past year, may no longer work.
With around 60 per cent of Israel’s population having received at least one jab of the Pfizer vaccine, the government has decided earlier this week that they will begin offering a third booster shot for those with compromised immune systems. With new daily Covid-19 infections running at about 450 cases a day in Israel, the Delta variant now makes up about 90 per cent of the cases.
While the country’s health ministry director-general Nachman Ash believes that Israel won’t reach “high waves of severe cases like in previous waves,” the government must still keep vigilant.
South Korea’s new wave
South Korea, another Covid-19 success story, had managed to curb its hard-hit coronavirus outbreak since last year. However, authorities now believe that their encouragement for the country to “open” back up and for its inoculated citizens to go mask-free outdoors may have been premature — due to the latest surge in cases surrounding the Delta variant.
On July 9, health authorities in Seoul announced that they will be ramping up lockdown restrictions throughout the city, urging everyone, vaccinated and not, to wear masks outdoors and limiting the size of gatherings.
As of July 12, the country has imposed strict social distancing measures in Seoul and its surrounding regions. Schools will go remote, nightlife and entertainment venues will be closed, and evening social gatherings will be limited to only two people. Rallies are banned and only family members can attend weddings and funerals.
“We can overcome this crisis and we need to overcome this crisis,” South Korean Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in a televised statement on Friday.
Health authorities in Seoul this week, meanwhile, are in a race to set up more test centers while partnering with the military to help with contract tracing.