Delta variant accounts for 99% of Covid cases, says WHO

Delta variant accounts for 99% of Covid-19 cases, says WHO

Stating that it is still unclear whether the Omicron variant causes more severe infection, the global health body has called for increasing vaccine coverage

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Even as countries continue to increase their preparedness measures to deal with a possible spike in Covid-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, the Delta variant continues to account for 99 per cent of the cases globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday.

Last week, the global health body classified the latest variant B.1.1.529 of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as a "variant of concern", implying it could be more contagious, more virulent or better able to evade public health measures, vaccines and therapeutics. First detected in South Africa, the Omicron variant has since spread to various countries in Europe, including Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the UK, and other continents, including Australia and Canada in North America.

"We know that at the moment, it's the Delta variant that's the major cause of the pandemic around the world. Over 99 per cent of cases around the world are due to the Delta variant and more deaths are occurring among the unvaccinated," WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan was quoted as saying on CNBC's Squawk Box Asia on Monday.

Also Read — Omicron poses 'very high' global risk, countries must prepare: WHO

"I think that's (vaccination is) our priority while we wait to find out more about (the Omicron) variant," Swaminathan was quoted saying.

While health experts are concerned about the Omicron's transmissibility, given its unusual constellation of mutations and profile that differs from previous variants of concern, the WHO said that it is not clear how transmissible the variant is and whether it will increase the severity of infection.

"It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta," the WHO said in a statement. It is also "not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta".

The numbers of infections as well as hospitalisations have risen dramatically in South Africa, where Omicron was discovered. But this may also be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than the result of the Omicron variant.

"There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those with other variants. Initially reported infections were among university studies — younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease — but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks," the WHO said, adding that "prevention is always key".

Also Read — WHO criticises travel bans on southern African countries

Swaminathan said that scientists are conducting experiments and collecting data to understand the variant; and also called on countries where the Omicron variant has been detected to share their clinical data and genomic sequencing data on the WHO's platforms for scientists to study.

"What we would like to know is if this variant is more transmissible, even more than Delta? We would like to know if there is a different clinical pattern, is it less severe, more severe when it causes disease?" Swaminathan was quoted as telling CNBC.

"And thirdly, and very importantly, is this variant able to evade immune responses either after natural infection or after vaccines," Swaminathan said.

However, she stated that currently, it should be assumed that the existing vaccines will provide some protection, if not full protection, against the new strain. Thus, "it's really important that everybody out there who's still unvaccinated, or who has received only one dose, must get a full course of vaccination," she said.

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