The delta variant of the coronavirus has now triggered a fourth wave of the pandemic in the Middle East, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, adding that the surge in Covid-19 infections and deaths is primarily being reported among people who are yet to be vaccinated.
"The rapid spread of the Delta variant across the Eastern Mediterranean Region and all other WHO regions is a major cause for concern," said Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the eastern Mediterranean.
"We are now in the fourth wave of Covid-19 across the region."
The delta variant of the coronavirus has now been reported in 15 out of 22 countries in the Middle East, according to WHO. Most of the new Covid-19 cases and hospitalised patients are unvaccinated. The low rate of vaccination in the region, coupled with the increased transmissibility of the delta variant of the coronavirus, remains a major cause for concern.
Iran, Iraq, Tunisia, and Libya are the countries worst hit by the recent surge in Covid-19 cases in the Middle East, said the public health body of the United Nations (UN). "Over 310 000 new cases and 3500 deaths have been reported on average on a weekly basis during the last 4 weeks, which is a 55% and 15% increase in the number of cases and deaths, respectively, compared to the previous month," a statement issued by the WHO media centre read.
"Admission and hospitalisation rates have increased in the last few weeks, and some referral hospitals are reaching full capacity and facing a shortage of intensive care beds and oxygen supplies," it added.
Covid-19 management does not only include churning out vaccines that are highly effective against coronavirus disease infection, but also requires an equitable increase in the vaccination coverage, the UN body said. "Until and unless vaccination coverage is increased equitably for everybody, everywhere, the virus will continue to circulate and mutate to produce new variants," WHO said in its statement.
Notably, only 41 million people in the Middle East (a mere 5.5% of the region's population) had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 till the last week in July. Among these vaccine doses, 40% were administered in high-income countries in the region, which account for only 8% of the region's population. Meanwhile, more and more people elsewhere in the region continue to be infected with the virus and succumb to their deaths due to inequitable vaccine rollout, increased social mixing, and poor enforcement of public health and social measures.