WHO’s warning: COVID not on the wane (as we think); Delta variant rising

Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan says while vaccination levels in some countries are reducing severe cases, large parts of the world face shortages of oxygen and hospital beds and higher mortality

WHO has urged governments to be careful while lifting restrictions. File Photo

World Health Organization chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan has said the COVID pandemic is not on the wane and that virus infections are increasing across most regions of the world as the Delta variant is spreading.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Swaminathan said while vaccination levels in some countries are reducing severe cases and hospitalizations, large parts of the world continue to face oxygen and hospital beds’ shortages and higher mortality.

“In the last 24 hours, close to 500,000 new cases have been reported and about 9,300 deaths — now that’s not a pandemic that’s slowing down,” she said.

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Cases are rising in five of six WHO regions, and mortality rates in Africa have jumped by 30% to 40% in two weeks, said Swaminathan. The main reason for the increase is the fast-spreading delta variant, slow vaccination rollouts globally and the relaxation of safety measures such as wearing masks and physical distancing.

The WHO has urged governments to be careful while lifting restrictions so as not to put at risk the gains made. In England, remaining legal restrictions are set to be removed on July 19, and measures such as wearing masks will become a personal choice. The US and much of Europe have also relaxed restrictions.

“The idea that everyone is protected and that everything goes back to normal is a very dangerous assumption right now anywhere in the world,” Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said in a media briefing on Wednesday (July 7).

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The WHO has updated its patient care guidelines to include interleukin-6 receptor blockers, a class of medicines that are lifesaving in patients who are severely or critically ill with COVID-19, especially when administered alongside corticosteroids.

These were the findings from a prospective and a living network meta-analysis initiated by WHO, the largest such analysis on the drugs to date. Data from over 10,000 patients enrolled in 27 clinical trials were considered.

These are the first drugs found to be effective against COVID-19 since corticosteroids were recommended by the WHO in September 2020.

Patients severely or critically ill with COVID-19 often suffer from an overreaction of the immune system, which can be very harmful to the patient’s health. Interleukin-6 blocking drugs – tocilizumab and sarilumab – act to suppress this overreaction.

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