Delta Covid variant first found in India spreads to 62 countries, hot spots form in Asia and Africa, WHO says

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A health worker tends to a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient supported by a mechanical ventilator and undergoing dialysis at the COVID-19 emergency room of the government hospital National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City, which has declared overcapacity amid rising numbers of COVID-19 infections in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, April 26, 2021.
Eloisa Lopez | Reuters

The Covid-19 variant first detected in India in October has now spread to at least 62 countries as outbreaks surge across Asia and Africa — despite a 15% week-over-week drop in cases across the globe, according to the World Health Organization.

“We continue to observe significantly increased transmissibility and a growing number of countries reporting outbreaks associated with this variant,” the WHO said of the Delta strain, noting that further study was a high priority.

The WHO changed the name of the variant to “Delta” in order to simplify its scientific name B.1.617.2. The new naming system for Covid variants, after letters of the Greek alphabet, also avoids stigmatizing countries that detect new strains.

The P.1 variant first detected in Japan from Brazil, now named “Gamma”, has now spread to 64 countries, according to the WHO.

Even countries with high vaccination rates are seeing a rise in cases over the last week or two, “so no one is out of the woods,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program said in a Q&A hosted by WHO on Wednesday across social media platforms.

In Bahrain where about 55%, of its population is inoculated with at least one dose, Covid cases have been spiking since the beginning of May, reaching the highest level of daily reported cases since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Our World in Data.

“Relaxation of public health and social measures, increased social mobility, virus variants and inequitable vaccination are a very dangerous combination,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, said in explaining some of the recent surges.

The Western Pacific region is reporting its highest levels of Covid cases and deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the agency’s weekly update. The region reported more than 139,000 new cases in the past week, a 6% increase from the previous week. The highest number of new cases in the region were reported from Myanmar with 53,419 new cases in the past week. The highest number of deaths in the region were reported from the Philippines, with 776 deaths reported in the past week.

“There are hotspots in each region (of the world), there are countries that are really facing very, very challenging situations, with increases in transmission,” Van Kerkhove said, noting that a combination of highly contagious variants, relaxed public health measures and inconsistent vaccination rates across the world are driving a lot of the recent surge in cases. “Eighteen months in, we’re all tired of this virus. It’s not done with us yet, and if we if we give it the opportunity to spread, it will.”

The African region reported over 52,000 new cases and over 1,100 new deaths in the past week, a 22% and an 11% increase respectively compared to the previous week, according to the weekly update.

The WHO also said last week that Africa needs at least 20 million AstraZeneca Covid vaccine doses within the next six weeks to get the second round of shots to people who’ve already received the first. The continent has received only 1% of all of vaccines administered globally and needs another 200 million doses of any cleared Covid-19 vaccines to vaccinate 10% of the continent by September.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he’s pulling out all the stops to get at least 70% of all American adults at least partially inoculated by the Fourth of July, offering vaccines at barber and beauty shops, free babysitting and Uber rides for people to get vaccinated, among other incentives. As of Tuesday, more than 62% of all adults in the U.S. had at least one shot.

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