The World Health Organization reported Monday that COVID-19 cases rose globally for the fourth consecutive week and that the number of deaths rose after 10 weeks of declines — driven by the highly contagious delta variant, which was first detected in India.
The delta variant has now been reported in more than 104 countries.
At the agency's Monday briefing from its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said all but one of the organization's six global regions had seen an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Tedros said WHO had received reports from all regions that hospitals were once again reaching capacity, and as he described it, the delta variant ripped "around the world at a scorching pace." He said it would soon become the dominant strain circulating worldwide.
He said the variant was spreading even in places with high vaccination coverage, especially infecting unprotected and vulnerable people and putting pressure back on health systems. In countries with low vaccination coverage, the situation is particularly bad.
The WHO chief said the world is experiencing a worsening public health emergency that further threatens lives, livelihoods and the world economy. He said it is worse in places with few vaccines, but the pandemic is not over anywhere. The global vaccine inequity is making it worse, he said.
Tedros compared the current global strategy for fighting the pandemic to fighting a forest fire.
"Hosing down part of it might reduce the flames in one area, but while it's smoldering anywhere, sparks will eventually travel and grow again into a roaring furnace. The world should battle together to put out this pandemic inferno everywhere. "
Mike Ryan, WHO health emergencies program executive director, also said events in regions with a certain level of vaccination — such as the just-concluded Euro 2020 soccer tournament that featured soccer stadiums at least partially full of fans — make it more difficult for nations that need to implement COVID-19 restrictions they need.
"It's more difficult for governments in those situations, in those countries, to continue to implement public health and social measures because their populations are looking at this and saying, 'Hey, it's all over in Europe. I mean, maybe it's all over here.'"
Meanwhile, Tedros chastised wealthy nations with high vaccination rates and vaccine producers Pfizer and Moderna for considering booster shots while other countries lack the supplies to vaccinate their health workers and the most vulnerable.
"Currently, data shows us that vaccination offers long-lasting immunity against severe and deadly COVID-19. The priority now must be to vaccinate those who have received no doses and protection," he said.