The Delta variant is changing calculations of governments around the world, raising doubts about how quickly they can leave the coronavirus pandemic behind, widening the gulf between highly vaccinated places and the rest, and infiltrating countries that had previously kept the virus at bay.
The variant’s ability to spread more easily than previous dominant versions of the virus has driven rapidly rising Covid-19 caseloads even in highly vaccinated countries such as the U.K. and Israel. There, the vaccines have suppressed serious illness and deaths. But, in many parts of the rest of the world, the pandemic that has already sickened at least 200 million people and killed more than four million is intensifying.
The good news that vaccines are highly effective against Delta at preventing severe illness and death in those fully inoculated is a vindication of governments’ bold bets on the shots as the surest way back to normalcy.
But for advanced economies, the highly transmissible variant means many more people will need to be vaccinated to keep new outbreaks in check, and the hopes that Covid-19 would rapidly fade into the background like seasonal influenza are receding.
Already, governments in Europe and some U.S. states are taking steps to boost sputtering vaccination campaigns to try to stay ahead of the variant. Others are reimposing mask mandates and asking some businesses to close again. Travel restrictions, quarantining when instructed, and working from home are commonplace.