The Latest: WHO: ‘Dangerous period’ with delta variant

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says the world is in “a very dangerous period” of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting the more contagious delta variant is identified in nearly 100 countries.

At a press briefing on Friday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the delta variant, first found in India, is continuing to evolve and mutate, and it is becoming the predominant COVID-19 virus in many countries.

“I have already urged leaders across the world to ensure that by this time next year, 70% of all people in every country are vaccinated,” he said, adding that would effectively end the acute phase of the pandemic.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC

— No lockdown plans in Russia as virus deaths hit new record

— Experts question if WHO should lead investigation into pandemic origins

— Pakistan gets 2.5M doses of Moderna from U.S.

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— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LONDON — Public Health England says cases of the more contagious delta variant have increased fourfold in the U.K. in less than a month.

It says a total of 161,981 confirmed and probable cases of delta variant have been identified in Britain — up 46% on the previous week.

The delta variant, which was first identified in India, continues to account for around 95% of confirmed cases of coronavirus across the U.K.

Though cases have been rising sharply in recent weeks, the number of people requiring hospitalization for COVID-19 has not risen as much. That indicates the link between infections and mortality has weakened following the rapid rollout of vaccines in the country.

Yvonne Doyle, Public Health England’s medical director, says most new cases are among younger age groups who are less likely to be hospitalized.

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ROME — The Vatican’s bioethics academy and the World Medical Association are calling for an all-out effort to combat vaccine hesitancy and correct the “myths and disinformation” that are slowing the fight against the coronavirus.

In a joint statement on Friday, the groups say some vaccine reluctance in poorer countries is rooted in historical inequalities and suspicions of Western pharmaceutical companies. But they say “a more pernicious form” of hesitancy is being driven by fake news, myths and disinformation about vaccine safety.

They demanded that “all relevant stakeholders exhaust all efforts to … confront vaccine hesitancy by sending a clear message about the safety and necessity of vaccines and counteracting vaccine myths and disinformation.”

The statement also repeated calls from the Vatican and the medical establishment for vaccine equity, ensuring the poorer nations have the same access to shots.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan received 2.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine from the United States on Friday, easing pressure on Islamabad in overcoming the shortage of COVID-19 vaccines.

According to a U.S. embassy statement, the vaccines were delivered to the Pakistani people in partnership with the COVAX global vaccine initiative, UNICEF, and the government of Pakistan.

It says this donation was part of the 80 million doses the United States was sharing with the world, “delivering on our pledge to facilitate equitable global access to safe and effective vaccines, which are essential to ending the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The latest development comes days after hundreds of Pakistani expatriate workers rallied in Islamabad, demanding they should be quickly vaccinated with the Moderna, Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines so they can travel abroad.

Pakistan has mostly relied on Chinese vaccines, but some Middle Eastern countries want travelers to produce a certificate to show they’ve received specific vaccines.

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BANGKOK — Health authorities in Bangkok reported 6,087 confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, setting a record for the second straight day.

Around 90% of total cases and 95% of the deaths have been recorded during a third wave of the coronavirus that began in April. There were 992 deaths in June this year, more than 15 times Thailand’s total for all of 2020.

The government’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration says there’s been a nationwide increase during the past two weeks in the number of patients in ICUs and on ventilators. There are 2,002 people in ICUs, including 566 on ventilators.

Center deputy spokeswoman Apisamai Srirangsan says 39% of the cases reported Friday were found in Bangkok, 25% in neighboring provinces and 36% in the other 71 provinces.

Sixty-one related deaths were reported Friday, bringing the total number of cases to 270,921 and 2,141 confirmed deaths.

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ROME — For the first day in nine months, the northern Italian region hardest hit in pandemic has registered no COVID-19 deaths.

“Today zero deaths for COVID in Lombardy, hasn’t happened since Oct. 6,” tweeted Lombardy Vice Gov. Letizia Moratti on Friday.

It was in Lombardy where the first Italian case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in February 2020. As of July 1, the region had tallied 33,782 confirmed deaths, far more than any other region. Lombardy’s hospitals, once overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in ICU beds, on Thursday admitted only one new patient to an intensive care ward.

However, Italian health officials are warning the delta variant has been steadily gaining traction in the country since May. They are expressing concern that people will relax safe-distancing and other practices to combat the pandemic while vacationing this summer.

Some 35% of people older than 12 in Italy are fully vaccinated, and the country is aiming to raise that to 80% by summer’s end.

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NEW DELHI — India has confirmed 400,000 deaths from COVID-19, half of them in the past two months, as the virulent delta variant infected hundreds of thousands daily.

The grim figure announced Friday is believed to be a fraction of the true total. It is second only to the United States and Brazil.

The Health Ministry says 853 people died in the past 24 hours, raising total confirmed deaths to 400,312 since the start of the pandemic. The first known COVID-19 death in India happened on March 12, 2020, in southern Karnataka state.

India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, has confirmed more than 30.4 million infections. There have been 46,617 new cases detected in the past 24 hours. That total also is believed to be an undercount.

New cases are on the decline after exceeding 400,000 a day in May. But authorities are preparing for another possible wave of infection around September and are trying to ramp up vaccination.

Less than 5% of India’s people are fully immunized. Over 340 million doses have been administered since mid-January, according to the ministry.

About 2 billion doses could be available by December with India’s two main suppliers, Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech, ramping up production and five other vaccines potentially available in the coming months.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 826 new cases of the coronavirus, its biggest daily jump in about six months, as fears grow about another huge wave of the virus in the greater capital area.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Friday that 633 of the cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country’s 51 million people, where officials pushed back an easing of social distancing measures as infections soared over the past week.

Dozens of infections were each reported in other major cities and regions, including Busan, Daejeon and South Chungcheong Province.

Some health experts say government officials sent the wrong message to the public by announcing plans to allow for larger gatherings and longer indoor dining hours at restaurants starting this month to ease the pandemic’s impact on the economy.

The experts say a premature easing of social distancing could have disastrous consequences when the country has administered first doses of vaccines to just 30% of its population and most younger adults remain unvaccinated.

South Korea has reported 158,549 cases and 2,024 confirmed deaths.

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentine officials say they will study the possibility of combining two different COVID-19 vaccines due to the delayed arrival of Russia’s Sputnik V for many who already received a first dose.

Buenos Aires city Health Minister Fernán Quirós tells Radio Mitre that officials would choose a random sample of potential volunteers to receive a second dose of vaccines made by AstraZeneca or China’s Sinopharm, or wait for a second shot of Sputnik likely starting in mid-August.

Several other countries have tried mixing vaccines due to distribution delays or safety concerns.

Some 70,000 people in Buenos Aires got an initial shot of Sputnik V three months ago and are still waiting a second dose. The number is about 300,000 nationwide.

The country has seen a renewed wave of infections at the start of the Southern Hemisphere winter.

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