West Asia and North Africa are currently in the middle of a fourth wave of Covid-19 and the rapid spread of the Delta variant in the region is a major cause for concern, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday. The Delta variant is now being reported in 15 out of the 22 countries in the region.

Coronavirus cases have substantially increased in Iran, Iraq, Tunisia and Libya over the past month, the World Health Organisation’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office said. The Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office covers 22 countries in West Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia.

“The Delta variant is becoming the dominant strain of the virus in several of these countries, with infections mostly being reported among people who have yet to be vaccinated,” it said.

The Delta variant, which was first identified in India, is more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-22 virus and other detected variants of concern.

The World Health Organization noted that till the fourth week of July, only 41 million people, or 5.5% of the region’s population, had been fully vaccinated.

“The fight against COVID-19 is not yet over,” Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said. “Variants of concern are currently winning the race as vaccines are not being distributed equitably. WHO encourages countries to boost vaccination coverage and address the disinformation and vaccine hesitancy that prevent people from accepting vaccines.”

Currently, there is a massive gap between wealthy and poor countries in terms of access to vaccines.

The World Health Organisation said that the Eastern Mediterranean has registered over 3,10,000 new Covid-19 cases and 3,500 deaths on average on a weekly basis in the last month. This constitutes a 55% and 15% increase in the number of cases and deaths, respectively, compared to the previous month. “Admission and hospitalization rates have increased in the last few weeks, and some referral hospitals are reaching full capacity and facing a shortage of intensive care beds and oxygen supplies,” a statement by the global health body said.

Countries like Tunisia, which has suffered the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in North Africa, have been struggling to contain the outbreak, AFP reported. Shortages of oxygen tanks and intensive care beds have stretched the capacities of healthcare systems.

On Tuesday, Iran recorded over 34,900 new coronavirus infections, setting the nation’s single-day record since the outbreak began in the country in February 2020, AP reported.