The country of El Salvador on Saturday said it had confirmed its first coronavirus infection caused by the highly transmissible delta variant, with the country’s president warning that the true number of cases of the strain could already be much higher.
El Salvador’s health minister, Francisco Alabi, announced the news in a press conference, according to a tweet shared by the government official.
El Salvador President Nayib Bukele retweeted the news, noting that the infection did not appear to come from abroad and that the delta variant could have already circulated among local communities.
“It could already be hundreds of cases,” he added, according to a translation of his tweet written in Spanish.
El primer caso confirmado no viene del extranjero, por lo que es evidente que la variante Delta debe tener varios días de circulación comunitaria en nuestro país.
Podrían ser ya cientos de casos. https://t.co/6DwocrZCnq
— Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) July 31, 2021
As of Friday, there have been a total of more than 86,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in El Salvador, as well as nearly 2,600 fatalities due to the virus, according to data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The spread of the delta variant has exacerbated fears among health experts and world leaders that surges in infections could undermine gains made in vaccine distribution.
Lead WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said Friday that the delta strain was “dangerous and the most transmissible SARS-CoV-2 virus to date.”
The WHO has classified delta as one of its four “variants of concern,” along with the alpha, beta and gamma. Four others have been labeled variants of interest.
The delta variant has now been detected in at least 132 countries across the world, according to the global health body.
El Salvador has largely relied on donations from other countries to distribute shots to its population of approximately 6.5 million people, including a 3 million Moderna dose donations from the U.S. through the COVAX global vaccination initiative.
Chinese company Sinopharm on Monday also said it would be donating 1 million doses of its vaccine to El Salvador, which Alabi said would lead the country to “exceed 9.5 million vaccine” doses, according to Reuters.
Prior to the Monday donation, El Salvador had received about 8.5 million doses of the vaccines made by AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sinovac and Moderna through purchases, donations and COVAX, Reuters reported.