GENEVA ( Associated Press) – The number of new coronavirus infections rose by about 55% last week, although the number of deaths remained steady, the World Health Organization said in its latest pandemic report.
In the weekly report released Tuesday night, the United Nations health agency said there were nearly 15 million new COVID-19 cases and more than 43,000 deaths in the past week. Every world region reported an increase in COVID-19 cases except Africa, where officials saw an 11% drop.
Last week, the WHO noted a pandemic record high of 9.5 million new infections in a single week, calling it a “tsunami” of disease.
The WHO said the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to define the pandemic globally and is now excluding the previously dominant delta variant. It said that Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa in late November, accounts for about 59% of all sequences shared with the largest publicly available global database of viruses. The WHO said that Omicron now had a shorter doubling time, with mounting evidence it was able to “escape immunity”. It also noted that there were several studies showing that it is less severe than previous variants.
After the rapid rise in cases of omicrons in South Africa that the type was first detected in, the epidemic quickly subsided and experts believe the wave has now passed. The WHO said this week that the number of cases declined for the first time this week, following a steady rise in the number of COVID-19 cases across Africa.
Scientists in Britain and the US say there are early signs Omicron’s crush may be peaking, but they are still unsure how the next phase of the pandemic will unfold. The WHO noted that the US reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases this week, with a 78% spike, mainly attributed to the U.S.
The number of new cases in Europe increased by 31%, while deaths fell by 10%.
The biggest jump in COVID-19 infections was seen in Southeast Asia, where cases increased by more than 400%, with the highest numbers in India, Timor-Leste, Thailand and Bangladesh. There has been a 6% drop in the number of deaths in the region.
The Omicron type spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects people who have been vaccinated or who have previously been infected with earlier versions of the virus. However, early studies suggest that Omicron is less likely to cause serious disease than the previous delta version, and vaccinations and boosters still provide strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and death.
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