The Delta coronavirus variant that has quickly become dominant in much of the world is now taking a grim toll in dozens of developing countries, where vaccination levels are insufficient to prevent a surge in cases from turning into a wave. of deaths.
As the economies of Europe and the US that have successfully weakened the link between infections and deaths have begun to reopen, poorer countries with low vaccination rates are in some cases entering their worst phase of the pandemic.
“The world believes this epidemic is over,” said Fatima Hassan, founder of the South African Health Justice Initiative. “But we still don’t have enough vaccine supplies in the system despite the global understanding that the Delta variant is so devastating.”
The Delta variant first identified in India accounts for 95 percent of the cases in South Africa where the genetic code has been sequenced. Less than 3% of people are fully vaccinated in South Africa, where jab delivery has been hampered by supply failures and, more recently, by a wave of political violence.
Ninety-nine percent of the sequenced cases in Indonesia, where only 6 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, are the Delta variant. Both South Africa and Indonesia have reported a record number of cases this month. In Indonesia, the total of 54,517 cases recorded on July 14 was four times the January level.
The same pattern is evident in much of Africa, which last week saw a 43 percent weekly increase in deaths from Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization. Five countries (Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia) accounted for 83% of the deaths.
Africa recorded 1 million new cases in the past month, the shortest time it has taken to add that number, bringing the total of infections across the continent to more than 6 million.
“The double barrier of vaccine shortages and treatment challenges is seriously undermining the effective response to the growing pandemic,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director.
She blamed the increase on the more transmissible Delta variant and public fatigue for measures such as wearing masks after more than a year of intermittent lockdowns. Alpha and Beta variants, first identified in the UK and South Africa with respect, had also been widely detected, he said.
In Europe, the UK and Portugal are among those facing an increase in Delta variant infections, but high vaccination rates have cushioned the impact.
In the UK, where more than half the population has been fully vaccinated, the proportion of deaths per case has dropped from about one in 50 during the winter wave to one in 750. Despite the daily rates of cases in the United Kingdom of more than 40,000, a number that before the launch of the vaccines would have caused about 800 deaths per day; the current daily count is about 50.
In contrast, Namibia, with only 1.2% of the population vaccinated, records one death for every 22 cases. Namibia’s daily rate of 28 Covid deaths per 1 million people is the highest in the world and well above the highest levels recorded in the UK and Italy.
Tunisia, where a surge in infections is killing people faster than at any other time during the pandemic, has the second highest death rate from Covid in the world. In Mexico, an estimated 84 percent of cases are Delta infections, a possible warning that the variant could also take hold in Latin America.
Trudie Lang, director of the Global Health Network at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Medicine Department, said the Delta variant was a major factor in the rise, adding that new mutations will continue to gradually drive out old ones.
But it was important not to look at Delta in isolation, he emphasized. Declining adherence to social distancing measures in poorer countries, where many people had to work for a living, was playing a major role in increasing deaths, he said.
“We’re tired because everyone wants to go on vacation and our kids want to go to music festivals,” Lang said of the impact of the closures on richer countries. “But if you are a normal family trying to make a living together in a favela in Rio [de Janeiro] Or at a market stall in Dhaka, fatigue in the bulls is a completely different story. “
In South Africa, the situation is especially acute in Gauteng province, where not only cases, but also hospitalizations and deaths have reached record levels. There are more than 8,000 Covid patients in hospitals in the province, with more than 100 deaths a day.
Hassan of the Health Justice Initiative said vaccine providers, who had not honored their contracts with South Africa and some other poor countries, had a heavy responsibility for what he described as an engulfing crisis.
In South Africa, months of closure had contributed to the anger that has recently spilled onto the streets in a wave of looting and destruction, he said.
“If we had had enough vaccine supplies a few months ago, we would have been in a much better position to mitigate the impact of the Delta variant,” he said. “Vaccine companies can play God in a pandemic. Where is the world? Why don’t they send us 50 million vaccines? We really need it, right now. “