The head of the World Health Organization said the COVID-19 variant first seen in India, also known as the delta variant, is “the most transmissible of the variants identified so far” and that it is now spreading in at least 85 countries.
At a news briefing on Friday, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the United Nations agency is concerned about the increasing reach of the delta variant, particularly among unvaccinated populations.
“We are starting to see increases in transmission around the world,” Tedros said, adding that “more cases means more hospitalizations … which increases the risk of death.”
WHO has previously said that two doses of the licensed COVID-19 vaccines appear to provide strong protection against the delta variant, but he warned that the lack of access to vaccines in poor countries — which have received fewer than two per cent of the billion doses administered so far — makes them extremely vulnerable.
WHO officials also warned that the unchecked circulation of the coronavirus could lead to the emergence of even more variants.
“The delta variant, the virus, will continue to evolve,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19.
“Right now our public health and social measures work, our vaccines work, our diagnostics work, our therapeutics work. But there may be a time where this virus evolves and these countermeasures don’t.”
Canada watching delta variant
In Canada, health officials on Friday similarly expressed concern about the delta variant, saying it could lead to a larger-than-expected resurgence in case numbers this fall if it becomes the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the country.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam reiterated the importance of keeping personal protective measures in place until the country achieves a higher level of vaccination coverage.
The Public Health Agency of Canada also released a chart with guidance on how people should approach various social situations, depending on their vaccination status.
For example, the agency says that those who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks or physically distance while indoors with a small group of other fully vaccinated individuals.
WATCH | Tam outlines guidance for fully vaccinated people:
– From The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 5 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 1,412,326 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 9,225 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 26,197. More than 34.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far across the country, according to CBC’s vaccine tracker.
In the North, Yukon‘s top doctor is calling for a “social firebreak” after the territory reported 22 new cases, bringing active cases to 111.
Dr. Brendan Hanley, chief medical officer of health, said in a statement that it’s time to slow down on social gatherings regardless of vaccination status. The most recent spread of COVID-19 has occurred through large, unorganized social gatherings, he said.
In Ontario on Friday, health officials reported two additional deaths and 256 new cases of COVID-19.
WATCH | Outgoing chief medical officer defends Ontario’s pandemic response:
In Quebec, meanwhile, health officials further eased some public health restrictions ahead of a broader reopening on Monday. The changes on Friday came ahead of an updated daily report, which showed no new deaths and 88 new cases of COVID-19.
In Atlantic Canada on Friday, Nova Scotia reported 16 new cases. New Brunswick reported one new case, while Newfoundland and Labrador had no new cases.
Prince Edward Island, which will open up to more travellers from Atlantic Canada as of Sunday, had not yet provided an update.
In the Prairies, Manitoba reported one new death and 85 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Following a surge in infections and hospitalization rates last month, the numbers have been steadily dropping, and the province will be loosening some restrictions on Saturday around gathering sizes, businesses and indoor and outdoor activities.
The province has also opened second-dose vaccination appointments to all eligible residents.
Saskatchewan reported no new deaths and 56 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Meanwhile, Alberta reported an estimated 100 new known cases of COVID-19; however, the actual numbers will not be known until early next week because of technical difficulties.
In British Columbia, health officials reported two new deaths and 72 new cases on Friday. The province’s seven-day rolling average of new cases is now at its lowest point since mid-August 2020. The number of people in hospital due to COVID-19 is also at its lowest point since Nov. 6, at 108 patients.
– From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Friday evening, more than 180.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to the latest numbers from Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 3.9 million.
In Europe, British officials say there were only 28 reported coronavirus cases among tens of thousands of people who attended mass-audience test events, including soccer games, a snooker championship, a nightclub event, an outdoor rock concert and the Brit Awards ceremony.
The government said 58,000 people attended indoor and outdoor events in the Events Research Program in April and May, and there were “no substantial outbreaks” as a result.
But scientists cautioned that the results did not provide “direct evidence of the risk of coronavirus transmission at specific types of events.” That’s because only 15 per cent of attendees reported the results of coronavirus tests taken both before and after the event, as they were meant to, and because infection rates in the U.K. were low at the time of the events.
To learn more, further pilot events are being held with bigger crowds — including, contentiously, the Euro 2000 final at Wembley Arena next month that’s set to be attended by more than 60,000 soccer fans.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia is shifting medical emergency units in the capital, Jakarta, to tents outside hospitals to create more room for COVID-19 beds, the health minister said, as authorities scramble to boost hospital capacity amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
In Australia, downtown Sydney and the city’s eastern suburbs, which include Bondi Beach, will go into a one-week lockdown as authorities struggle to contain a spike in the highly contagious delta variant in the city.
In Africa, a rapid resurgence of COVID-19 is slamming South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, and threatens to overwhelm its hospitals.
Johannesburg, a city of five million, and the surrounding Gauteng province account for about 60 per cent of the country’s new daily infections. South Africa’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has doubled over the past two weeks from 10 new cases per 100,000 people on June 10 to 22 per 100,000 people on June 24, according to Johns Hopkins University.
On Friday, the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters protested in Pretoria against the slow pace of vaccination, which has been blamed for contributing to the new surge. The country has had a shortage of vaccines, but with supply increasing, it aims to double daily vaccinations in the next month.
On Thursday, acting health minister Mamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced that people in South Africa aged 50 years and older will soon be included in those eligible for vaccination. So far, inoculations have been limited to health-care workers, people aged 60 and over and school teachers.
In the Americas, Mexico’s health regulator has given approval to U.S. drugmaker Pfizer’s vaccine for use in children 12 and older.
Chile’s health minister said the first case of the more contagious delta variant had been detected in the South American country.
In the Middle East, Israel, a world leader in vaccinations, is once again requiring people to wear masks in indoor public spaces amid a coronavirus outbreak driven by the arrival of a new variant. Israel rolled out one of the most successful vaccination campaigns in the world, inoculating some 85 per cent of its adult population. In recent months, nearly all restrictions were lifted as the number of active cases plummeted.
– From Reuters and the Associated Press, last updated at 6 p.m. ET
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