WHO: The world is blind to where COVID is and how it’s changing

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A worker cleans down the doorway of a Covid-19 testing centre set up a car park in Penrith in Cumbria, north west England on June 21, 2021, following an outbreak of a coronavirus variant of concern. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Countries including the UK have rolled out mass testing programmes to help curb the spread of coronavirus, but lower income nations are unable to fund similar programmes (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

The lack of coronavirus testing in low-income countries means the world is “blind” to where the virus is spreading and how it’s changing, the head of the World Health Organization has warned.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a lack of resources and funding for testing for the infection in poorer countries, particularly those in Africa, meant that COVID-19 is continuing to mutate and spread.

"The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it," he said. "It is in our hands." 

Ghebreyesus said that the total number of cases of coronavirus worldwide is expected to pass the 200 million point "within two weeks". By Friday the UK had recorded a total of 5.8million cases.

"We have the tools we need," he added. "We can prevent this disease. We can test for it. We can treat it. 

"And yet since our last press conference cases have continued to climb."

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 30: City of Tshwane health workers doing free Covid-19 testing at Waverley Plaza during adjusted lockdown level 4 on June 30, 2021 in Pretoria, South Africa. South Africa is currently battling the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
A COVID testing site in Pretoria, South Africa. The country is currently battling a third wave of the pandemic (Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Ghebreyesus urged countries to pool together to support testing programmes across the world, and highlighted the imbalance of vaccination rates from country to country.

"Testing rates in low-income countries are less than 2% of what they are in high-income countries, leaving the world blind to understanding where the disease is and how it’s changing," he said. 

"The global distribution of vaccines remains unjust. All regions are at risk, but none more so than Africa. 

"On current trends, nearly 70% of African countries will not reach the 10% vaccination target by the end of September.

Video screen shot taken on May 7, 2021 shows World Health Organization WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attending a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.
  The WHO validated on Friday the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm for emergency use, a move set to boost global vaccine rollout, particularly in the developing world.(Photo by Xinhua via Getty Images) (Xinhua/Xinhua via Getty Images)
WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus said limited coronavirus testing in low-income countries means the world is 'blind' to where the virus is spreading (Xinhua/Xinhua via Getty Images)

"We will need additional financing this year for COVAX to exercise its options to purchase vaccines for 2022. This investment is a tiny portion of the amount governments are spending to deal with coronavirus.

"The question is not whether the world can afford to make these investments; it’s whether it can afford not to."

It comes as data from the Office for National Statistics showed that in the week ending 24 July, infection rates dropped in Scotland but continued to rise across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

On Friday the UK reported 29,622 new COVID cases and 68 more coronavirus-related deaths in the latest 24-hour period, according to government data. The figures compare with 31,117 infections and 85 fatalities announced on Thursday, while 36,389 cases and 64 deaths were reported on this day last week.

Since coronavirus emerged, it has been mutating as it spreads, with some variants developing vaccine-evading properties and higher transmissibility levels.

The variants originating in Kent, South African and Brazilian, all preceded the Delta variant - which originated in India - and is now the dominant strain of the virus.

Ghebreyesus warned that the "Delta surge" could see infections outrun vaccination levels in lower income countries and urged a "a shared responsibility approach".

Watch: Coronavirus in numbers, 30 July

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