GENEVA (Reuters) — 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 — in that each case of Delta leads to 5-9 additional cases — and cautioned it could cause severe disease, according to an internal CDC document (https://bit.ly/3778gY7) published by the Washington Post.
COVID-19 infections have increased by 80% over the past 4 weeks in most regions of the world, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. Deaths in Africa — where only 1.5% of the population is vaccinated — rose by 80% 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 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 that the Delta variant is about 50% more transmissible than ancestral strains of SARS-CoV-2, that first emerged in China in late 2019.
A few countries have reported increased hospitalisation rates but higher rates of mortality have not been recorded from the Delta variant, she said.
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