The world is at risk of losing hard-won gains against Covid-19 as the super-contagious Delta variant spreads, experts have warned.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said Covid-19 cases increased by 80 per cent over the past four weeks in most parts of the globe.
A surge has also been reported in Kenya with the Ministry of Health recording another “all-time high” after detecting 1,259 positive cases from a sample size of 8,081.
This raised the positivity rate to 15.6 per cent, which is almost three times what the WHO requires to consider that a country has successfully managed the disease.
Across the continent, deaths rose by 80 per cent over the same period, with just about 1.5 per cent of the population having been vaccinated.
“Hard-won gains are in jeopardy of being lost, and health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.
In Kenya, where 1,733,100 jabs had been shipped into the country as of Thursday last week, 1,712,550 people had been vaccinated, representing just 2.4 per cent of the adult population. This happened as a new variant known as Lambda, first detected in Peru, was reported in 28 countries. The South American nation has the highest per capita coronavirus death rate in the world.
Although the bulk of transmissions are driven by Delta, which was first detected in India, scientists have seen a rapid spread of Lambda in recent weeks. It has now been categorised as a variant of interest among three others — Eta, Iota, and Kappa.
“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 Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies programme.
The body reported an elevated presence of Lambda in other South American countries, including Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador. It’s also been reported in the United States.
Like all viruses since the pandemic began, Sars-Cov-2 has mutated multiple times. Most changes have little to no impact on its properties.
Some changes may, however, affect the virus’s properties, such as how easily it spreads, the associated disease severity, or the performance of vaccines, therapeutic medicines, diagnostic tools, or other public health and social measures.
The Lambda variant is said to carry a number of mutations with suspected implications, such as potential increased transmissibility or possible increased resistance to neutralising antibodies.
But the full extent of those mutations’ impact isn’t yet well understood and will need further study. The WHO has classified four of those mutations as variants of concern — Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. Delta has been detected in 132 countries and is the dominant variant.
“We are fighting the same virus but it has become faster and better adapted to transmitting amongst us humans, that’s the change,” added Dr Ryan. In the Middle East, the Delta variant has triggered a “fourth wave” after a surge in infections.
“The circulation of the delta variant is fuelling the surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths in an increasing number of countries in WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region. It is now being reported in 15 out of the 22 countries of the region,” said the WHO.
Japan said on Friday it would expand states of emergency to three prefectures near the 2020 Olympics host city Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka. There’s a surge in Covid-19 cases in the capital and around the country.
Dr Ryan said Tokyo recorded more than 3,000 cases in 24 hours, among some 10,000 new infections in Japan.
“The Olympics is a part of that overall context and the risk management that is placed around the Olympics is extremely comprehensive,” he said.