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Sensemaker: Delta waves

Tuesday 1 June 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • China allowed married couples to have three children, ending its two-child policy, as its birth rate continues to decline and its population ages.
  • New Delhi reopened manufacturing and construction activity, but kept other businesses and schools closed, as its reported cases of Covid plummet.
  • Researchers at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand trained dogs to smell Covid with an accuracy of 96.2 per cent in controlled settings.

Delta waves

The World Health Organisation has come up with a plan for naming coronavirus “variants of concern”. Instead of a geographical name, they will now be known by a Greek letter. The Kent variant will now be the “alpha” variant. The latest problem variant – B.1.617.2 – had been known as the “Indian” variation. It will henceforth be known as the “delta” variant.

Delta appears to be a very efficient spreader. Adam Finn, a member of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told the BBC today: “The truth is that a more infectious virus, which is what it looks like we’ve got, will reach people who are vulnerable.” 

Delta is already causing some problems in the UK: the next phase of unlocking in England is scheduled for 21 June. There is, however, increasing chatter about this being delayed as delta has surged. The numbers remain low – 58 deaths over the past week, 870 hospital admissions, 23,000 detected cases – but the indicators are moving in the wrong direction.

This matters for the whole world: the UK is the most heavily vaccinated large country, with 58 per cent of its population now jabbed – but unlocking is just tough. There are still a lot of people who have not received a jab, lots have only recently started the treatment (so have yet to get the full benefit) and some people for whom the vaccination will not be effective. 

This means that the risk-reward trade-off for the government on a delay is also pretty lopsided in favour of delay. As the jabs keep rolling out and jabees’ antibodies come online, the country will become more resilient, day by day. And, at the same time, the country is already fairly open. The latest major benchmark was that pubs and restaurants reopened for indoor service in mid-May. It will be easier to delay this element of the reopening than the earlier phases. 

But these are relatively good problems to have. The coronavirus crisis is burning out of control in countries which are months behind the UK’s vaccination drive. The single most urgent step that governments around the world should be taking is to get vaccines into arms where those arms are in most danger. Peru has the worst death toll on Earth, with 180,000 dead in a population of around 30 million. Malaysia is locking down once again. India is only reopening construction sites in Delhi. Nepal is mid-disaster.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

The end of Bibi?
The Israeli opposition looks set to finally vanquish Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, after 12 years in office. A coalition deal currently being negotiated would see him replaced as Israeli PM by Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Yamina micro-group in the Knesset. Bennett is to Netanyahu’s right, but his coalition may have little of him in it: a critical partner would be Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, a centrist party. The deal would have Lapid take over as prime minister after Bennett.


New things technology, science, engineering

Chip shortages
Acer, one of the world’s largest laptop manufacturers, has said it will be slowed down into 2022 by its difficulty in sourcing microchips: this is the latest domino in this global supply chain problem to fall. Car makers have already run into trouble over their inability to source chips, a shortfall that could last several years, according to Intel. The shuttering of production facilities plus changes in demand for products driven by pandemic home-working have led to a global shortage of chips that will take some time to work through.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Hard lessons
As England is pondering unlocking, one of the issues now facing policy-makers is the clean-up. And it looks like the magic money tree is running dry: a plan to help children catch up on missed education – notably through longer school days – has been proposed and costed at £15 billion. The Treasury has, reports say, asked them what they can do for £1.5 billion. (If you’re interested in this, come to the Tortoise Education Summit!)


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Cicada season
It begins! Cicadas have awoken from their 17-year slumber across the eastern US, tunnelling up from their catacombs to emerge into the light. The Guardian write-up makes it sound faintly nightmarish: “A swarm of cicadas can produce a sound that reaches around 100 decibels, louder than a revving motorcycle – but also grisly. Cicadas flail around in a stupor on their backs, some lie squashed, others are picked off by a red-shouldered hawk that is shoveling insects into the gaping maws of two ravenous chicks in a nearby nest… a creature measuring two inches long that resembles a cockroach with the startling addition of orange eyes.” Bleurgh.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Cost of Brexit
A set of researchers at Aston University have estimated that the Brexit referendum led to a cumulative loss of about £113 billion in services business between 2016 and 2019. The argument about the effect and wisdom of leaving the EU will forever be scrambled by the effects of the pandemic. Outside Northern Ireland, where the border with Great Britain is a serious political and practical problem, these arguments may remain academic for a while: for individual households, trying to discern the effects of the departure from the EU is going to be impossible, given the scale of the effects of the pandemic on jobs, incomes and trade.

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can.

Chris Cook
@xtophercook 

Photographs by Getty Images


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