Delta COVID Variant Now Dominant Strain Worldwide As It Sweeps Across Asia

Photo by Giacomo Carra

The Delta variant of COVID-19 is now the dominant strain worldwide as many Asian countries battle their worst surge of COVID-19 infections.

The Philippines on Friday recorded 16 new cases of the more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus, prompting the national government to put provinces where these were detected under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), which has the highest level of restrictions.

The country now has 35 cases of the Delta variant.

The Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was first identified in India. It is fueling the deadly surge in cases in Indonesia, which is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Asia.

With many vaccine pledges still unfulfilled and the rates of infection spiking across multiple countries, experts say more needs to be done to help nations struggling with the overflow of patients and shortages of oxygen and other critical supplies.

The Delta variant, which is significantly more contagious than the original variant of COVID-19, has been detected around 100 countries globally and is now the dominant variant worldwide, top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said.

“We are dealing with a formidable variant” of COVID-19, Fauci said during the call.

“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said, adding that 97% of people entering hospitals in the United States with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

Many, including the World Health Organization, have been critical of the vaccine inequalities in the world, pointing out that many wealthy nations have more than half of their populations at least partially vaccinated, while the vast majority of people in lower-income countries are still waiting on a first dose.

The International Red Cross warned this week of a “widening global vaccine divide” and said wealthy countries needed to increase the pace of following through on their pledges.

The U.S. has sent tens of millions of vaccine doses to multiple countries in Asia recently, part of President Joe Biden’s pledge to provide 80 million doses, including Vietnam, Laos, South Korea and Bangladesh. The U.S. plans to donate an additional 500 million vaccines globally in the next year, and 200 million by the end of 2021.

The Philippines is expecting 1.1 million doses from Japan, 132,000 of Sputnik V from Russia, as well as others through COVAX.

Earlier this week, the Philippines received 3.2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine from the U.S., as Washington continues its coronavirus diplomacy by sharing doses with developing nations.

This brings a total of 16 million doses to be received by the Philippines this July.

In addition to distributing some donated vaccines, financial contributions to COVAX also help fund the purchase of doses to distribute for free to 92 low or moderate income nations.

Earlier this month, it took blistering criticism from the African Union for how long it was taking for vaccines to reach the continent, which noted that just 1% of Africans are fully vaccinated.

Gavi said the vaccine shortfall so far this year is because the major COVAX supplier, the Serum Institute of India, diverted production for domestic use.

In its latest supply forecast, however, Gavi shows deliveries just beginning a sharp uptick, and still on track to meet the goal of about 1.5 billion doses by year’s end, representing 23% coverage in lower and middle income nations, and more than 5 billion doses by the end of 2022.

“It’s better to focus on vaccinating the world and to avoid hoarding doses,” said Matheou, of the Red Cross. “Sharing vaccines makes everyone safer.”

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