COVID activity up in parts of Western Pacific, Africa

Subway woman in mask

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Global COVID activity continues to show a mixed picture and variant shifts, with the African region now reporting a rise in cases and numbers up in a few other hot spots, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today in its latest weekly update.

Over the past 4 weeks, cases declined 21% compared to the previous period, and deaths were down by 17%. The WHO included the caveat that reported cases are underestimated due to reduced testing and delays in reporting. Deaths were up in four world regions: Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, and the Western Pacific.

Omicron subvariant proportions continue to shift. Over most of April and into the first week of May, the level of XBB.1.5 declined from 50.4% to 41.6%, while the level of XBB.1.16 rose from 6.9% to 13.2%. Levels of other XBB-lineage subvariants also showed rises, including XBB.1.9.1 and XBB.1.9.2.

Hot spots in Asia, Australia, and Africa

In the Western Pacific region, cases rose by 38%, with Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, and Brunei Darussalam reporting the biggest proportional increases, with more modest rises reported by South Korea and Australia.

Over the past few months, modest COVID surges have been reported from locations in the region, including Hong Kong. Though China is in the WHO's Western Pacific region, today's report didn't have details about the country's rising activity.

China, like some other countries, isn't posting weekly updates, but at a medical conference this week, Zhong Nanshan, MD, one the country's top respiratory disease experts, said the new wave fueled by the Omicron XBB subvariant started in April, NBC News reported today. He predicted that cases will peak at 65 million per week by the end of June.

The country's last surge was about 6 months ago, when officials scrapped China's strict "zero COVID" measures.

Elsewhere in the region, Taiwan earlier this week said cases and deaths were on the rise again, with XBB subvariants making up more than half of new cases, according to a Taiwan Centers for Disease Control statement translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary, an infectious disease news blog.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's recent surge has slowed significantly, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said today in its latest COVID and flu surveillance report.

In Africa, the countries reporting the biggest proportional increases were Cabo Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Uganda. A modest rise was also reported from Mauritius.

Paxlovid gets full approval from FDA

In other COVID developments today, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced full approval for Paxlovid (nirmaltrelvir and ritonavir tablets), the first oral antiviral for treating COVID to receive the designation. The FDA's approval is for mild-to-moderate COVID illness in adults who are at risk for severe disease.

In its announcement, the FDA said Paxlovid that was made and packaged under the emergency use authorization will still be available for adults and eligible children ages 12 to 18 who aren't included in today's approval.

Patrizia Cavazzoni, MD, who directs the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said, "Today's approval demonstrates that Paxlovid has met the agency's rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness, and that it remains an important treatment option for people at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including those with prior immunity."

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