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July 21, 2021, 1:21 p.m. EDT

Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 will likely be dominant strain globally within months after spreading to 124 countries, says WHO

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Ciara Linnane

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.

Read: Immunity provided by COVID-19 vaccines likely to ‘wane, not plummet,’ CDC director tells Congress

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.

See now: McConnell urges Americans: ‘Get vaccinated’ or risk another shutdown

Also: More employers should mandate COVID-19 vaccines for workers — for the health of their business

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.

For more:   Vaccine misinformation ‘a serious threat to public health,’ U.S. surgeon general says

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 /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -1.30% with German partner BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -3.61% or Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -2.41% , or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -0.28% one-dose vaccine. The AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN -1.84% vaccine that has been widely used in the U.K. and other places has not received emergency-use authorization in the U.S.

Read: The FDA may not fully approve a COVID-19 vaccine until January. Here’s why.

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