Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), issued a frank and alarming warning about the potential for fresh COVID-19 cases to exceed 100 million by early 2022 – taking the total caseload to 300 million and counting.
His warning came just a week after the global case count surpassed 200 million, fuelled by the rise of the Delta variant which is considered to be more transmissible and has been detected in 135 countries as of August 5th. The Delta variant originated in India, where 18,245 cases have been reported as of August 9th. This is the fourth-highest number of cases of the Delta variant in the world, behind only the United Kingdom, the United States, and Denmark.
Tedros urged global cooperation in responding to the pandemic in his remarks. “Whether we reach 300 million and how fast we get there depends on all of us,” he said. However he critiqued the fact that whilst “we are all in this together…the world is not acting like it.” The WHO has called for US$7.7 billion to fund vaccine distribution, healthcare, and oxygen delivery in low-income countries which are bearing the brunt of vaccine nationalism that has left many of the world’s most impoverished and vulnerable regions bereft. Just two percent of the population of Africa has been inoculated.
For India, the warning is alarming. Sujit Singh, head of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), has stated that “[the Delta] variant, through its transmission, has not led to any major exponential surge” in fresh COVID-19 cases in the country. However, many warn that the country is staring down the bleak spectre of a third wave in the wake of a vicious second one which defied predictions by even the then-health minister that the country was in the “endgame” of the pandemic following a consistent decline in fresh COVID-19 cases in the preceding months.
Laxity in mask-wearing and physical distancing are clear red flags. The Indian Medical Association expressed that it was “painful to note that both the government and public are complacent and are holding mass gatherings without following COVID protocols.” Warning signs of a third wave are present in at least ten states according to some experts. Some project that a third wave may hit this month.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health disaster unparalleled in recent memory. It did not have to be this way. Equity is a must in providing treatments and vaccinations if we are to avert the worst. For many in the world, life is returning to some semblance of normalcy. But we can be hit back into the abyss – and, unless we’re prepared, we can hit back so much harder.