The World Health Organisation on Wednesday said that the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19, which was first detected in India, is expected to become the dominant strain of the virus over the coming months, reports AFP. The deadly variant has now been found in 124 countries and already accounts for more than three-quarters of sequenced specimens in many major countries, the WHO said.

In its weekly epidemiological update, the global body said the variant is expected to rapidly out-compete other variants and become the dominant circulating lineage over the coming months. The three other coronavirus variants of concern (VOCs), Alpha has been reported in 180 territories and was first detected in Britain. Beta was first detected in South Africa and is now found in 130 countries. Gamma, first detected in Brazil, is now reported in 78.

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According to SARS-CoV-2 sequences submitted to the GISAID global science initiative over the four weeks to July 20, the prevalence of Delta exceeded 75 percent in several countries.

Those included Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Britain, China, Denmark, India, Indonesia, Israel, Portugal, Russia, Singapore and South Africa.

"Growing evidence supports the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant as compared to non-VOCs. However, the exact mechanism for the increase in transmissibility remains unclear," said the WHO.

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3.4 million new COVID-19 cases were reported in the week to July 18 globally, which is more than 12% cases recorded the week before. "At this rate, it is expected that the cumulative number of cases reported globally could exceed 200 million in the next three weeks," said the WHO.

The organisation said the global increases in transmission appeared to be driven by four factors: more transmissible variants; the relaxation of public health measures; increased social mixing and large numbers of unvaccinated people.

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Cases were up 30 percent in the WHO's Western Pacific region and up 21 percent in its European region. The highest numbers of new cases were reported from Indonesia (350,273 new cases; up 44 percent), Britain (296,447 new cases; up 41 percent), and Brazil (287,610 new cases; down 14 percent).The number of weekly deaths, however, remained steady at 57,000, similar to the previous week and following a steady decline for more than two months.