What does the Delta Covid-19 variant mean for Norway’s reopening plan 

There have been several outbreaks of the Delta coronavirus variant in Norway and health authorities have said it could become the dominant strain. So, what does this mean for the country's reopening plan? 

What does the Delta Covid-19 variant mean for Norway’s reopening plan 
Could the Delta variant derail Norway's reopening plan. Photo: Kaspars Dambis Flickr.

The Delta variant was first sequenced in Norway in early May in Oslo and Viken, and as of June 15th, there have been 139 confirmed cases of the virus mutation in Norway.

The variant only accounts for around one percent of all Covid cases in Norway, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH). Despite this the NIPH still considers the Delta variant a variant of concern. 

The virus has been detected in a few different places across Norway, such as Oslo, Fæeder, Trondheim, Bergen and even further north in Troms and Finnmark.

Preben Aavitsland, chief physician at the NIPH, has told newspaper VG there is a chance that the Delta strain could soon replace the Alpha variant, which was first detected in the UK, as the dominant variant in Norway. 

Part of the reason for this is that the Delta variant spreads faster than others; another reason it may become the dominant one is that research indicates that vaccines are slightly less effective against the Delta variant especially after one dose.

Research from the UK indicates that a single dose of a Covid-19 vaccine only provides 33 percent protection against symptomatic illness caused by the Delta variant. However, two doses of both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca will offer over 90 percent protection against the variant.

Could concerns around the variant affect the reopening?

Norwegian PM Erna Solberg has said consistently that the government will take a data over dates approach to easing Covid-19 measures. 

The government uses three checkpoints when assessing whether it will lift measures; these are the infection situation and infection rates, capacity within the health service and vaccination. 

READ MORE: REVEALED: How Norway will further relax Covid-19 vaccinations 

This means a sharp rise in infections and hospitalisations could derail the governments reopening plan or put plans to lift more measures on hold. 

Research from a risk assessment of the Delta virus by the NIPH in June found that the Delta variant was both more infectious and more likely to lead to more severe Covid-19 than the Alpha variant, which fuelled a third coronavirus wave in parts of Norway during the spring.

“The Delta variant gives more serious disease than the alpha variant and is more easily spread,” the risk assessment outlined. 

This means that the potential for the Delta variant to halt Norways reopening plan, as it has done in the UK, for example, is certainly there but, what have the experts said? 

The expert view

Preben Aavitsland, chief physician at the NIPH, has said that while the Delta strain could become the dominant strain of Covid in Norway as early as July, he isn’t worried because more and more people are being vaccinated. 

“We are currently not too worried about the consequences of it taking over, even if it happens in July. By the end of July, most people over 45 will be fully vaccinated,” he told VG

“We must expect some spread, but as it looks now, we can hope that this variant will not be a major threat. But we must emphasise that there is some uncertainty, and we will follow developments closely,” he added. 

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.