The WHO has warned there is a ‘strong likelihood’ of dangerous Covid variants spreading around the world as they declared the pandemic ‘nowhere near finished.
An emergency committee of the global health body said the mutant strains will make it even harder for the pandemic to come to an end.
In a statement, the committee said: ‘Despite national, regional, and global efforts, the pandemic is nowhere near finished.
The World Health Organisation ‘s emergency committee has warned that new concerning variants of Covid-19 were expected to spread around the world. Pictured: a women is tested for the virus in Bangkok
The four variants of concern
The WHO has designated four strains of Covid ‘variants of concern’.
They were each recently renamed after letters in the Greek alphabet to prevent potential ‘hate crimes’.
Alpha was identified in Kent in the UK in December, the same month as the South African variant later renamed Beta.
Gamma was first discovered in Brazil in January.
The Delta variant, which is currently fueling the surge of new cases in the UK and spreading around the world, was identified in India.
‘The pandemic continues to evolve with four variants of concern dominating global epidemiology.
‘The Committee recognised 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.’
Committee chairman Didier Houssin acknowledged to reporters that ‘recent trends are worrying’.
He said a year-and-a half after the WHO first declared a so-called Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) – its highest alert level – ‘we are still running after this virus and the virus is still running after us’.
For now, four concerning variants of Covid-19 are dominating the global pandemic picture, Alpha, Beta, Gamma and especially the rapidly-spreading Delta variant first detected in India.
But the committee warned that worse could lie ahead, pointing to ‘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’.
WHO declares variants as being ‘of concern’ when they are seen as either more transmissible, more deadly or have the potential to get past some vaccine protections.
Meanwhile, the head of the WHO today implored China to be more transparent about the origins of the pandemic.
Investigations in Wuhan earlier this year were hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of spread of the virus.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged China to be more transparent about the origins of Covid
A team spent four weeks in and around the city with Chinese researchers and said in a joint report in March that the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal.
It said that ‘introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway’, but countries including the United States and some scientists were not satisfied.
‘We ask China to be transparent and open and to cooperate,’ WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Thursday.
‘We owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died to know what happened,’ he said.
China has called the theory that the virus may have escaped from a Wuhan laboratory ‘absurd’ and said repeatedly that ‘politicizing’ the issue will hamper investigations.
Tedros will brief WHO’s 194 member states on Friday regarding a proposed second phase of study, WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan said.
‘We look forward to working with our Chinese counterparts on that process and the director-general will outline measures to member states at a meeting tomorrow, on Friday,’ he told reporters.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn, who held talks with Tedros on Thursday, urged China to enable investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic to continue, saying more information was needed.
Spahn, speaking during a visit to the WHO headquarters in Geneva, also announced a 260 million euro ($307 million) donation to WHO’s ACT-Accelerator programme, which aims to ensure the entire world, including poorer countries, receive COVID-19 vaccines and tests.