Hard-won gains at risk as Delta variant spreads, says World Health Organization

Geneva, SwitzerlandUpdated: Jul 30, 2021, 10:47 PM IST

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Photograph:(AFP)

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

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 against the disease, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

The US Centers 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 1.5 per cent of the population is vaccinated - rose by 80 per cent over the same period.

"Hard-won gains are in jeopardy or being lost, and health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed," Tedros told a news conference.

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 hospitalization 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 that the Delta variant is about 50 per cent more transmissible than ancestral strains of SARS-CoV-2, that first emerged in China in late 2019.

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

Ryan warned that Delta "is a warning that this virus is evolving, but it is also a call to action, that we need to move now, before more dangerous variants emerge".

Tedros, who traveled to Tokyo last week, said he wanted to use the Olympics platform to spread a message on vaccine solidarity.

"Do you really accept 1.5% vaccination in Africa while in some countries it is already 70%?...Is it really wrong to go to the mountain top of the Olympics to call for solidarity? Are you saying that's wrong? I hope not. So, that's why I went," he said.

Rising COVID-19 cases in Tokyo have cast a shadow over the event and organisers on Friday (July 30) reported 27 new Games-related COVID-19 cases including three athletes, bringing the total since July 1 to 220.

"Japan did did its best and IOC of course, they did their best to minimize risk, because nobody should expect zero risk," Tedros said.

Ryan said the risk management in place for the Olympics was extremely comprehensive.