Global COVID-19 cases are declining, except in Asian hot spots
Global COVID-19 cases are declining, except in Asian hot spots

Global COVID-19 cases are declining, except in Asian hot spots

Last week, global COVID-19 cases as well as deaths continued to fall, except for parts of Asia that are experiencing later Omicron variants, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday in its weekly update.

The agency also provided an update on risk from the more transferable BA.2 Omicron sub-variant, which it says is now dominant in 18 countries, and announced the establishment of a biotechnology training center planned for South Korea. Sanofi also announced that it is ready to submit the COVID-19 vaccine, which it developed with GSK, for regulatory approval.

BA.2 is gaining momentum as cases fall

World affairs fell 21% last week compared to the previous week, continuing with a 3-week decline. Deaths fell 9% compared to the week before.

Both cases and deaths continue to rise in the WHO’s western Pacific, though led by increases in South Korea, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Brunei.

South Korea today reported a new record of more than 170,000 new cases, with infections in Hong Kong and Singapore also beat daily records.

Of the 12 million cases reported across the globe last week, the five countries with the most were Russia, Germany, Brazil, the United States and South Korea.

Genetic sequencing suggests that 99.1% of the world’s cases involve the Omicron variant, with the BA.2 line now dominant in 8 additional countries, raising the total number to 18.

The WHO Advisory Group on Virus Development met this week to discuss the development of Omicron variants, including BA.2 and other subdivisions. In a announcementsaid the group said BA.2 should continue to be classified as Omicron.

By examining the differences between the original Omicron strain (BA.1) and its BA.2 subvariant, the group said that although BA.2 sequences are increasing, the cases are generally declining globally. Genetic infection from BA.2 after previous Omicron infection has been documented, but initial analysis suggests that infection with the original Omicron still provides strong protection against BA.2.

Regarding the severity, the experts noted that experiments with animals in a laboratory in Japan suggest that BA.2 causes more serious disease in hamsters. However, they said that real data from South Africa, the UK and Denmark show no difference between BA.1 and BA.2.

Bioproduction hub launched

The WHO today announced a training center for bio-production, which will be located in South Korea outside Seoul. It will look like a global mRNA vaccine hub established in South Africa to increase production in low- and middle-income countries.

In a statement, the WHO said the center will teach researchers how to produce biological drugs, including vaccines, insulin, monoclonal antibodies and cancer treatments.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, Director-General of the WHO, said that a key barrier to successful technology transfer outside higher-income countries is the lack of skilled labor and weak regulatory systems. “Building these skills will ensure they can manufacture the health products they need to a good quality standard so they no longer have to wait for the end of the queue,” he said.

Together with South Korea, the WHO Academy will develop a curriculum for bioproduction.

Meanwhile, the WHO today also announced support for five more countries to become part of South Africa’s mRNA vaccine hub: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Serbia and Vietnam. Last week, the WHO announced the first group of recipients, which were Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.

Sanofi vaccine goes to regulators

In other vaccine developments, Sanofi today released promising Phase 3 study results for the two-dose adjuvanted protein-based COVID-19 vaccine it developed with GSK. It said it was ready to submit the vaccine for regulatory approval.

In a announcementSanofi said the vaccine showed 100% efficacy against serious illness and death, 75% efficacy against moderate or severe disease and 57.9% efficacy against any symptomatic disease.

Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president of Sanofi Vaccines, said the vaccine was effective in a primary series and showed efficacy as a booster for other COVID-19 vaccines across a range of age groups. He also pointed out that, unlike other vaccines, the trial of the Sanofi vaccine took place as variants of concern were circulating, including Omicron.

The company said it is in discussions with regulators, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency.

U.S. cases are declining, but still abundant transmission

In the United States, a number of COVID-19 indicators continue to decline, although federal data show that 97% of counties still report high or significant transmission. For example, the 7-day average for new daily cases is 84,878, reflecting a 38% drop over the past week, according to Washington Post tracker. The 7-day average for deaths is 1,964 a day, down 19% over the past week.

Nearly 175,000 children’s COVID-19 cases were reported for the week ending February 17, a sharp drop from the peak of 1,150,000 reported for the week ending January 20, according to a update from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Currently, 54,985 beds are in use for COVID-19 patients, down from 75,032 a week ago, according to the Department of Health and Human Services Protect Public Data Hub.

In other US developments:

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