Australia detects ‘highly transmissible’ COVID variant in Melbourne

Australian authorities in the southeastern state of Victoria have detected a “highly transmissible” variant of the deadly coronavirus, stoking concerns of a major spike in cases.

Authorities in Victoria said on Friday that the Delta COVID-19 virus variant has for the first time been detected through genomic sequencing among infections in the latest outbreak in Melbourne, the state capital and Australia’s second-biggest city.

“That variant is the Delta variant, it is now infamous in India and increasingly found in the United Kingdom. It is a variant of significant concern,” Victoria state Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told reporters in Melbourne.

Sutton stressed that the highly infectious variant was not linked to any sequenced COVID-19 cases in other parts of Australia and is thought to be behind the recent devastating wave of the deadly pathogen in India.

“It is a concern that it is not linked to other cases but we are chasing down all those primary-case contacts … and looking into where it might have been acquired,” the Australian official said.

The Delta variant has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as among the four COVID-19 variants of concern due to evidence that they spread more easily.

The highly infectious variant was said to have been detected in two members of a family who traveled from Melbourne to neighboring New South Wales (NSW) in late May and visited several popular tourist locations in the state’s south.

Sutton said it was “within the bounds of possibility” that the cases could have contracted the Delta variant in NSW but that more tests would be needed as NSW, Australia’s most populous state, has not reported any locally acquired cases in a month.

Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, is battling to contain its latest outbreak – 65 cases since May 24 – after more than three months of no cases, placing tough restrictions on the movement of people and shutting down large parts of its economy.

A range of measures, including snap lockdowns, regional border restrictions, and strict social distancing rules, have been taken to rein in potential outbreaks in Australia and keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low at just over 30,100 cases and 910 deaths.

More than 4.6 million vaccine doses have been administered as of Wednesday in Australia, which has an adult population of about 20 million.

WHO: Africa faces ‘rising threat’ of third COVID wave

The WHO warned that healthcare systems across Africa are “far from ready” to cope with a fresh surge of coronavirus infections, with vaccine deliveries at a near standstill and cases surging in many countries.

“Many African hospitals and clinics are still far from ready to cope with a huge rise in critically ill patients,” WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said in a virtual briefing. “The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising.”

The UN health agency said in a survey last month that the essential health facilities and personnel required to manage critically ill COVID-19 patients are grossly inadequate in many African countries.

Africa has officially registered more than 4.8 million cases and 130,000 deaths, according to the WHO, representing 2.9 percent of global cases and 3.7 percent of deaths.

Colombia reports double record of daily deaths

Colombia reported on Thursday a double record of daily deaths and infections of COVID-19 as most Latin American countries are struggling to contain the pandemic.

The Colombian health ministry reported a new daily death record of 545 and a new high of 28,624 daily reported infections. The country’s death toll has now passed 90,000.

Colombia has so far administered more than 10.6 million vaccine doses, including 3.3 million second doses, as part of its plan to vaccinate more than 35 million people this year.

Brazil registered more than 16,000 new fatalities on Thursday, bringing its total to almost 470,000, which is the second-highest in the world after the United States.

Mexico also reported more than 200 daily deaths, bringing the overall number to more than 228,000.

Separate government data recently published suggest the actual death toll in Mexico is at least 60 percent above the confirmed figure.

Indonesia cancels Hajj again amid COVID concerns

Meanwhile, Indonesian authorities canceled the Hajj pilgrimage for people in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation for the second year in a row, due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Due to the pandemic and for the safety of the pilgrims, the government has decided that this year it won’t allow Indonesian pilgrims to go again,” the minister of religious affairs, Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, said in a statement on Thursday.

Yaqut said Saudi Arabia had not opened access to the Hajj and pilgrims who had paid Hajj fees would be pilgrims next year.

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