Stockholm/BERLIN: Increased free testing, contact tracing and other steps are needed to fight the Covid-19 Delta variant, now dominant in much of Europe, the World Health Organisation and the EU’s disease agency warned on Friday.
WHO Europe and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued a joint appeal for "reinforced efforts" by European countries to check the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, first detected in India.
"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," the joint statement said.
It said data reported to WHO and the ECDC shows that between 28 June and 11 July the Delta variant was dominant in 19 countries of the 28 countries that reported sufficiently complete genetic sequencing information. The number of cases surged this week by nine percent worldwide, up 26 percent in Europe and 60 percent in the United States, spurred on by the Delta variant, according to an AFP survey.
The ECDC, which tracks the 27 EU countries and three non-EU countries, said it raised from low to moderate its level of concern for the pandemic in Europe and expressed a high level of concern for four countries: Spain, Portugal, Malta and Cyprus.
In a related development, Germany’s public health institute on Friday said it was putting Spain and Holland on a list of high-incidence countries for coronavirus, meaning new restrictions for unvaccinated travellers.
The move by the Robert Koch Institute, effective on Tuesday, comes as Europe’s top economy tries to slow new cases in the face of the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant at the height of the summer tourism season.
It said in a statement that Georgia was now also immediately listed among the high-incidence countries, those with new infection rates of 200 or more per 100,000 people in the past seven days. Anyone arriving from high-incidence countries is required to go into a 10-day quarantine, which can be cut to five days upon a negative test.
Fully vaccinated people or those who have recovered recently from the coronavirus are exempt from the quarantine. Germany has seen a sharp rise in new cases in recent weeks driven by the Delta variant, although it is still faring better than most of its neighbours.
On Friday it reported 2,089 new cases and 34 deaths in the previous 24 hours, bringing its seven-day incidence rate to 13.2. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday she was concerned about Germany’s "exponential growth" in Covid-19 infections, urging Germans to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the Philippines sent millions of children back into lockdown Friday as hospitals prepared for a surge in coronavirus cases fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant ravaging neighbouring countries.
Nearly half of the 47 cases of the more virulent strain detected so far were locally acquired, the health department said, raising fears of a sharp uptick in infections that have topped 1.5 million since the start of the pandemic.
"The Delta variant is more infectious and deadly," said presidential spokesman Harry Roque as he announced tougher rules for the national capital region and four provinces where cases have spiked. Along with tighter capacity limits on indoor dining, beauty salons and religious gatherings, children aged five to 17 have been told to stay home. It comes two weeks after the government lifted a ban on minors going outside that had been in place since March 2020 but often flouted.
The government has previously justified the draconian measure by citing the risk of youngsters catching the virus and infecting their elderly relatives.
Independent research group OCTA, which advises the government on its pandemic response, called Thursday for "localised lockdowns" as well as extended curfews and a stay-at-home order for children.
The group "believes that a surge in its early stages has started in the National Capital Region," OCTA’s Ranjit Rye said in a statement, warning it may be driven by the Delta variant.
The health department said checks were underway to ensure hospitals had enough beds, medicine, oxygen tanks and staff to deal with a possible surge in cases. Record infections earlier this year had threatened to overwhelm health care facilities.
Border restrictions have also been tightened for travellers from Thailand and Malaysia where authorities are battling to contain Delta-fuelled outbreaks. India and Indonesia and are also among the countries on the travel ban list.
It comes as the Philippines struggles to vaccinate its population of 110 million due to tight global supplies and logistical challenges. Just over five million people are fully vaccinated while 10.5 million have received their first jab.
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