GENEVA (AP) – The number of new coronavirus cases globally increased by 7% in the last week, mainly driven by rising infections in the western Pacific, even as reported deaths from COVID-19 fell, the World Health Organization said.
There were more than 12 million new weekly cases and just under 33,000 deaths, a 23% drop in mortality, according to the UN health agency’s report on the pandemic released late Tuesday.
Confirmed cases of the virus have been steadily declining worldwide since January, but increased again last week due to the more infectious omicron variant and its sub-variant BA.2, in addition to the suspension of COVID-19 protocols in several European countries, North America and elsewhere.
Health authorities have repeatedly said that omicron causes milder disease than previous versions of coronavirus, and that vaccination, including a booster, is extremely protective against serious disease.
The Western Pacific remained the only region in the world where coronavirus cases are rising, reporting a 21% jump last week, continuing weeks of rising. According to figures from last week, the number of new infections in Europe remained stable and fell everywhere else.
The WHO warned that with many countries dropping widespread testing programs, many infections are likely to be missed and new case numbers should be interpreted with caution.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, WHO’s emergency director, Dr. Michael Ryan that although some countries are seeing an exponential spread of COVID-19 caused by the more infectious omicron subvariant BA.2, it is proving to be less destructive than previous waves of viruses.
“Countries that have high rates of vaccination for their vulnerable populations are coping with the transmission storm,” he said. “We do not see it translating into pressure on health systems or higher rates of hospitalization and death.”
In recent weeks, several countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany, have eased many of their public health measures against COVID-19, although numbers have continued to rise. More than 85% of the virus sequences shared with one of the world’s largest platforms are of the BA.2 subvariant of omicron, the WHO said.
Last week, British Health Minister Sajid Javid said British residents should prepare for a jump in COVID-19 infections but that the country was still “in a very good position” due to its high level of vaccination.
Meanwhile, China’s health authorities this week reported the first coronavirus deaths in more than a year as the country battles its worst outbreak since the virus was discovered in Wuhan in late 2019.
The semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong is also embedded in a deadly wave of COVID-19, and the city of 7 million has registered more deaths than mainland China during the pandemic.
Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam said this week that authorities would consider easing some of its stringent pandemic measures as cases begin to decline after weeks of rising cases overloading hospitals and cemeteries.
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