The highly transmissible delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus causing the disease COVID-19, is now present in 124 countries and will become the dominant strain globally in the coming months as it is outcompeting other variants, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.
The variant was detected in 13 new countries in the week ending July 18, the agency said in its weekly epidemiological update. The global number of new COVID cases rose by 3.4 million in the week, up 12% from the prior week. The world added an average of 490,000 cases a day, compared with 400,000 cases the week before. The number of fatalities was flat at almost 57,000.
There are now more than 190 million confirmed cases of COVID, and more than 4 million people have died of it.
“At this rate, it is expected that the cumulative number of cases reported globally could exceed 200 million in the next three weeks,” said the update.
The other three “variants of concern” are also spreading. The alpha variant, first detected in the U.K., is now in 180 countries, up from 172 last week; the beta variant, first detected in South Africa, is now in 130 countries, up from 123 last week; and the gamma variant that was first found in Brazil is present in 78 countries, up from 75 last week.
The increases in transmission appear to be driven by the fact these new variants are more contagious, as well as the relaxation of public health measures, greater
social mixing, “and the large number of people who remain susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection as a result of inequitable vaccine distribution around the world,” said the WHO, reiterating a longstanding criticism of how the vaccine supply is being handled around the world.
The delta variant is responsible for 83% of all COVID cases sequenced in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who testified in Congress on Tuesday alongside National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases chief Anthony Fauci.
That makes it more urgent than ever that unvaccinated Americans get their shots as that group accounts for the vast majority of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths. And all three are increasing again, with cases on the rise in all 50 states.
The seven-day average of new cases stood at 37,975 on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 195% from two weeks ago. Hospitalizations stood at 25,295, up 46%, and deaths numbered 249, up 42% from two weeks ago.
And while those numbers are well below those reported at the peak of the pandemic earlier this year, the delta variant is creating crises in several states with low vaccination rates, including Missouri, Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana.
A doctor in Alabama told a poignant and distressing tale on Facebook, as reported by news site Alabama.com, of patients begging for a vaccine when on the point of intubation. “I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late,” said Dr. Brytney Cobia of Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham.
The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing how few people are signing up for shots, despite the public education campaign. It shows that 161.6 million Americans are fully vaccinated, equal to 48.7% of the overall population, up from 48.6% a day ago. That means they have had two shots of the vaccines developed by Pfizer
with German partner BioNTech
or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson
one-dose vaccine. The AstraZeneca
vaccine that has been widely used in the U.K. and other places has not received emergency-use authorization in the U.S.
There was disappointing news in a study that found the J&J shot is much less effective against the delta variant than against the original virus.
The study, which examined blood samples in a laboratory setting and has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggests that anyone who received the J&J vaccine may need to receive a second shot as the variant continues to spread across the U.S., as the New York Post and others reported.
“The message that we wanted to give was not that people shouldn’t get the J&J vaccine, but we hope that, in the future, it will be boosted with either another dose of J&J or a boost with Pfizer or Moderna,” study leader Nathaniel Landau, a virologist at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine, reportedly told the New York Times.
Outside of the U.S., up to two-thirds of India’s population may have been infected with COVID-19, a government study suggested on Tuesday, as AFP reported.
The blood serum survey of about 29,000 people in June and July showed 67.6 percent of those tested exhibited antibodies, according to a study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research.
In Rome, cases have increased fivefold in the last nine days in a surge that is believed to be related to celebrations following the recent European soccer championship won by Italy, as the Guardian reported.
Rome counted 557 new cases on Tuesday, up from 112 on July 11, the day that Italy vanquished England in the Euro 2020 final.
South Korea recorded 1,784 new cases on Tuesday, yet another one-day record, Reuters reported. About 40% of the infections recorded in the last week were of the delta variant, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 191.4 million on Wednesday, while the death toll climbed above 4.1 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with a total of 34 million cases and in deaths with 609,549.
India is second by cases at 31.2 million and third by deaths at 418,480, according to its official numbers, which are expected to be undercounted.
Brazil is second in deaths at 544,180 but is third in cases at 19.4 million.
Mexico has fourth highest death toll at 236,810 but has recorded just 2.7 million cases, according to its official numbers.
In Europe, Russia continues to pull ahead of the U.K. by deaths at 148,229, while the U.K. has 129,109, making Russia the country with the fifth highest death toll in the world and highest in Europe.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 104,362 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.