Hard-Won Gains At Risk As Delta Variant Spreads: WHO

GENEVA: The world is at risk of losing hard-won gains in fighting Covid-19 as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads, but WHO-approved vaccines remain effective, the World Health Organisation said on Friday.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described the Delta variant of the coronavirus as being as transmissible as chickenpox and cautioned it could cause severe disease, the Washington Post said, citing an internal CDC document.

Covid-19 infections have increased by 80 per cent over the past four weeks in most regions of the world, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Deaths in Africa — where only 1.5pc of the population is vaccinated — rose by 80pc over the same period.

The Delta variant has been detected in 132 countries, becoming the dominant global strain, according to the WHO.

“The vaccines that are currently approved by the WHO all provide significant protection against severe disease and hospitalisation from all the variants, including the Delta variant,” said WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan.

“We are fighting the same virus but a virus that has become faster and better adapted to transmitting amongst us humans, that’s the change,” he said.

Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, said the Delta variant was the most easily spread so far, about 50pc more transmissible than ancestral strains of SARS-CoV-2 that first emerged in China in late 2019.

A few countries had reported increased hospitalisation rates, but higher rates of mortality had not been recorded from the Delta variant, she said.

Japan said on Friday it would expand states of emergency to three prefectures near Olympic host city Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka, as Covid-19 cases spike in the capital and around the country, overshadowing the Summer Games.

Ryan noted that Tokyo had recorded more than 3,000 cases in the past 24 hours, among some 10,000 new infections in Japan.

In China, a cluster of infections in Nanjing city had reached the capital Beijing and five provinces by Friday.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been locked down in Jiangsu province, of which Nanjing is the capital, while 41,000 came under stay-at-home orders in Beijing’s Changping district.

Meanwhile, the United States ramped up efforts to get people vaccinated in the face of a Delta variant-fuelled surge. With infections and hospitalisations rising, President Joe Biden asked every US federal worker to either declare they are fully vaccinated or wear masks and be tested.

WHO Urges Action To Suppress Covid Before Deadlier Variants Emerge

The Delta variant of Covid-19 is a warning to the world to suppress the virus quickly before it mutates again into something even worse, the WHO said Friday.

The highly-transmissible variant, first detected in India, has now surfaced in 132 countries and territories, the World Health Organization said.

“Delta is a warning: it’s a warning that the virus is evolving but it is also a call to action that we need to move now before more dangerous variants emerge,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told a press conference.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added: “So far, four variants of concern have emerged — and there will be more as long as the virus continues to spread.”

Tedros said that on average, infections increased by 80 percent over the past four weeks in five of the six WHO regions.

Though Delta has shaken many countries, Ryan said proven measures to bring transmission under control still worked — notably physical distancing, wearing masks, hand hygiene and avoiding long periods indoors in poorly ventilated, busy places.

“They are stopping the Delta strain, especially when you add in vaccination,” he said.

“The virus has got fitter, the virus has got faster. The game plan still works, but we need to implement and execute our game plan much more efficiently and much more effectively then we’ve ever done before.”

Price of vaccine inequity

The UN health agency has consistently called for vaccines to be distributed evenly around the world and has branded the drastic imbalance a “moral outrage”.

More than four billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally, according to an AFP count.

In countries categorised as high income by the World Bank, 98 doses per 100 people have been injected.

That figure drops to 1.6 per 100 in the 29 lowest-income countries.

Instead, those nations, “in the face of the Delta variant — they’re going to pay a very, very different price as a result”.

‘No magical solutions’

The WHO wants every country to have vaccinated at least 10 percent of its population by the end of September; at least 40 percent by the end of this year, and 70 percent by the middle of 2022.

“We are a long way off achieving those targets,” Tedros lamented.

He said that just over half of the 194 WHO member states have fully vaccinated 10 percent of their population; less than a quarter have vaccinated 40 percent; and only three countries have vaccinated 70 percent.

Meanwhile the WHO says Burundi, Eritrea and North Korea are the only remaining member states yet to start Covid-19 vaccination campaigns.

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 4.2 million people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, while nearly 196.6 million cases have been registered, according to tallies from official sources compiled by AFP.

Tedros said that on current rates of infection, the 200 million known infections mark will be surpassed within the next two weeks, although the true figure will be much higher.

“There are no magical solutions,” said Ryan. “The only magic dust we have is vaccination. The problem is we’re not sprinkling that evenly around the world and we are working against ourselves.”

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