Delta COVID variant fuels global surges, complicates reopenings

COVID-19 viruses on cell surface
COVID-19 viruses on cell surface


Africa's third wave is picking up speed, with some countries hard hit by the Delta (B1617.2) SARS-CoV-2 variant, as the spread of the more transmissible virus poses new threats to countries that had success cutting their case numbers.

Twelve African nations battling surges

At a World Health Organization (WHO) African regional office briefing today, Director Matshidiso Moeti, MBBS, said the continent's third wave is accelerating and hitting harder than earlier waves, with increased reports of serious illness. She said the surge is led by the Delta variant and people's fatigue with maintaining COVID-19 measures.

Global health officials are worried about the potential for explosive outbreaks in Africa, especially with vaccine distribution inequities that have led to just over 1% of Africa's population being fully vaccinated.

She said the Delta variant is present in 14 African countries and has been detected in most of the sequenced samples from Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Twelve African nations are experiencing fresh surges. Moeti said cases in the country's third spike will likely top those of its second spike by early July.

In a related development, South Africa yesterday reported its highest daily total of the third wave, with 17,493 cases, according to Anadolu Agency. Gauteng province, which includes Pretoria and Johannesburg, is the main hot spot.

"Africa can still blunt the impact of these fast-rising infections, but the window of opportunity is closing. Everyone everywhere can do their bit by taking precautions to prevent transmission," she said.

Eight African nations have already exhausted their COVAX vaccine supplies, and 18 have used up 80% of the vaccine they received through the program.

At today's briefing, Moeti also raised concerns about the fairness of vaccine certificate requirements on African travelers, who don't have the same access to immunization. "Vaccine shortages are already prolonging the pain of COVID-19 in Africa. Let's not add injury to injustice," she said.

Worries about accelerating cases in Brazil

Some South American countries have been battling stubborn surges, with Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina among the top five countries in cases last week.

Yesterday, Brazil's health ministry reported a daily high record of 115,228 cases, amid signs that its outbreak is accelerating, according to Reuters. The country's 7-day average for cases is now the highest in the world, topping India's number.

The country has been slow to deploy vaccines, with only 12% fully vaccinated, but campaigns are starting to gain traction.

Brazil has faced several challenges during the pandemic, including the president and his supporters not taking the threat seriously and embracing unproven treatments such as hydroxychloroquine. In an earlier surge, the more transmissible Gamma (P.1) variant fueled large outbreaks across several parts of the country.

Upticks in countries that cut cases

Israel, which has an aggressive vaccination campaign and has won praise for its efforts to curb the virus, is experiencing a rise in Delta variant infections, led by outbreaks in schools, according to the Washington Post. Yesterday, the government postponed its Jul 1 date for allowing vaccinated tourists to enter the country, and it signaled that it would reimpose the indoor mask mandate if cases exceed 100 for a week.

In Portugal, COVID cases involving the Delta variant are rising, especially in the Lisbon area, and officials today announced stricter rules for the region and for Albufeira, a coastal tourist destination, according to Reuters.

Yesterday, the country reported 1,556 new cases, the most since February, and in Lisbon, more than half involve the Delta variant.

Elsewhere, Australia's New South Wales (NSW) state reported double-digit cases for the third day in a row, and Victoria state reported a case in someone who had traveled to Sydney, the outbreak's epicenter, according to Reuters.

More global headlines

  • A study from Imperial College London estimated that 2 million people in the United Kingdom have experienced "long COVID," about one in five of people who had COVID. Researchers found that women, those who were overweight or obese, those from deprived areas, and hospitalized people had a higher risk of persistent symptoms, whereas Asian people seemed to have a lower risk.

  • The WHO, World Trade Organization, and World Intellectual Property Organization have joined forces to support more equitable global access to medical technology to battle COVID. Of two specific initiatives, one targets capacity building, with the other designed to provide technical assistance.

  • In its weekly communicable disease threat report today, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said enhanced surveillance during the Euro 2020 soccer tournament hasn't turned up any notable disease outbreak, but it notes that Finland and Denmark have reported some COVID cases linked to tournament attendance, including some Finnish cases detected at the Russian border.

  • The global total today rose to 179,752,588 cases, and 3,894,562 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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