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WHO: 'Strong likelihood' more dangerous COVID-19 variants will emerge

Homeless and migrant laborers affected by the COVID-19 lockdown queue up to receive free cooked food distributed by Sikh volunteers, in New Delhi, India, on May 18. The World Health Organization is warning that divert response of rich and poor countries to the pandemic is preventing a united front to the health crisis. Photo by Abhishek/UPI
Homeless and migrant laborers affected by the COVID-19 lockdown queue up to receive free cooked food distributed by Sikh volunteers, in New Delhi, India, on May 18. The World Health Organization is warning that divert response of rich and poor countries to the pandemic is preventing a united front to the health crisis. Photo by Abhishek/UPI | License Photo

July 16 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization warned of the strong likelihood that further, possibly more dangerous and more challenging variants of the coronavirus will emerge.

On Thursday during a press briefing, Prof. Didier Houssin, who heads the WHO Emergency COVID-19 Committee, said the current situation of the pandemic is "not good," despite it being 18 months since the WHO officially declared the coronavirus a public health emergency.

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"We are still running to catch up with the virus and the virus is still running after us," he said, stating the coronavirus' continual evolution and the differences in approach to the pandemic of the WHO's member states are a "source of difficulty."

The briefing was held as the committee published a statement from its eighth meeting from a day prior that said the pandemic remains a global challenge with rich countries seeking to fully reopen while poorer nations are experiencing new waves of infections, resulting in divergent policies preventing a global response to the health crisis.

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"The pandemic is nowhere near finished," the committee said, adding that it recognizes "the strong likelihood for the emergence and global spread of new and possibly more dangerous variants of concern that may be even more challenging to control."

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The meeting was held as the highly contagious Delta strain of the virus continues to spread around the world. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while some have mischaracterized the pandemic as coming to an end, deaths and cases are increasing globally.

According to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University, there have been nearly 189 million infections, including more than 4 million deaths, to the pandemic.

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However, after some 10 weeks of declines, cases have risen for four consecutive weeks with daily deaths also on the rise.

In his opening remarks to the eighth meeting of the emergency committee on Wednesday, Tedros said the Delta variant is now present in 111 countries with expectations that it will soon be the world's dominate strain.

"The Delta variant is one of the main drivers of the current increase in transmission, fueled by increased social mixing and mobility, and inconsistent use of proven public health and social measures," he said.

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He said global inequitable access to vaccines has created a two-track pandemic, with rich lifting restrictions and putting their unvaccinated populations at greater risk while the majority of the world that lacks access to vaccines is left to the mercy of the virus.

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During the meeting Thursday, the WHO urged rich nations to share vaccines and drop intellectual property rights for the medicine in order to improve access to the drug.

According to Oxford University's Our World In Data project, 25.8% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but only 1% of those in low-income countries have been given the life-saving jab.

The WHO said it is urging for unity for the world to achieve the goal of vaccinating at least 10% of every country's population by September, at least 40% by the end of the year and 70% by the middle of next year.

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