The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that the spread of COVID-19’s Delta variant, along with increased social mobility and the inconsistent use of proven public health measures was driving increases in both case numbers and deaths.
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus stated this on Wednesday in remarks to the 8th meeting of the Emergency Committee on COVID-19, established under International Health Regulations (IHR), a treaty that guides global response to public health risks.
In the speech posted on WHO website, the director-general recalled the sustained decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths in recent months, driven largely by increasing vaccination rates in Europe and North America, but sounded alarms over the fresh reversal of that positive trend.
“Unfortunately…we are now in the early stages of a third wave,” he said.
Last week marked the fourth consecutive week of rising cases of COVID-19 globally, with increases recorded in all but one of WHO’s six regions. Deaths are also rising again, after 10 weeks of steady decline.
Meanwhile, the director-general said the virus was continuing to evolve, resulting in more transmissible variants.
“The Delta variant is now in more than 111 countries and we expect it to soon be the dominant COVID-19 strain circulating worldwide, if it isn’t already,” Ghebreyesus was quoted as saying.
The spread of the Delta variant – one of the main drivers of the current increase in transmission – was also being fuelled by increased social mobility and the inconsistent use of proven public health and social measures.
He drew the Committee’s attention to the ongoing “shocking disparity” in the global distribution of vaccines, as well as unequal access to life-saving tools, reiterating his concern that inequity had created a two-track pandemic.
According to him, one track for countries with the greatest access to vaccines, who are lifting restrictions and reopening their societies, and a second track for those without vaccine access, who are left at the mercy of the virus.
“Many countries still have not received any vaccines, and most have not received enough.
In that context, the director-general reiterated WHO’s appeal for a massive push to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of the population of every country by September, at least 40 per cent by the end of 2021, and at least 70 per cent by mid-2022.
Emphasising that vaccines alone will not stop the pandemic, he called on countries to persist with a “tailored and consistent approach.”
That means using the full array of available public health and social measures and taking a comprehensive risk management approach to mass gatherings.
“So many countries around the world have shown that this virus can be stopped and contained with these measures,” he stressed.
To provide support, WHO recently issued updated guidance to facilitate a risk-based approach for opening.
The Agency is also reviewing options to digitalize the International Certificate for Vaccination and Prophylaxis, to support a harmonized approach for recording vaccination status.