COVID cases trend down in all world regions

Vax syringe

Oregon State University, Theresa Hogue / Flickr cc

Except for a few hot spots, COVID-19 activity over the past month declined in all six world regions, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its weekly update today.

The pattern follows several weeks of a mixed picture, which saw rising cases in some parts of the globe.

Australia, China among hot spots

Compared to the previous month, cases dropped 38% and deaths were down 47%, according to the WHO. The group included its usual caveat that cases are underestimated, owing to reduced testing and delays in reporting.

Though two of the countries reporting rising cases—Australia and China—are both in the WHO's Western Pacific region, cases in the area declined 5% over the past 28 days.

Australia's cases were up modestly, and with the onset of cooler weather in the Southern Hemisphere, the country is reporting rises of both COVID and flu. COVID-19 cases have doubled since March, and most people haven't had a COVID booster in more than 6 months, Australia's SBS News reported. Health officials are urging people get up to date with their COVID vaccine boosters and flu shots.

In China, the government is no longer releasing weekly data, but health officials have said the country is in the midst of an XBB wave, which isn't expected to reach the level of the country's late-winter surge, the South China Morning Post reported today. Experts said, however, that many deaths could occur, given the country's large elderly population.

UK health data firm Airfinity estimates that China's current wave could peak at 11 million cases a week some time in June.

Elsewhere in the Western Pacific, the WHO said 13 of 35 reporting countries have noted increases over the past 4 weeks, with the highest proportional increases coming from Mongolia, Cambodia, and Laos.

The WHO's Africa region had reported a slight rise in earlier weeks, and while cases are declining, a few countries still report rises, including Mauritius and Zimbabwe. In a related development, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, age 78, has tested positive for COVID and is continuing his duties while getting treatment, Reuters reported.

Variant shifts vary by region

In its update on Omicron variants, the WHO said the proportion of XBB.1.5 subvariants is steadily decreasing as a constellation of newer ones rise in patterns that vary by world region.

From the middle of April to the middle of May, the proportion of XBB.1.5 declined from 46.2% to 30.3% of sequences. The other variant of interest, XBB.1.16, rose from 10.2% to 16.8% over the past month.

Meanwhile, levels of four variants under monitoring rose: XBB, XBB.1.9.1, XBB.1.9.2, and XBB.2.3.

Rising activity from some of the newer variants is coming with rises in hospitalizations and deaths in some countries, but at lower levels than earlier SARS-CoV-2 waves, the WHO said. Dominance varies by region, with XBB.1.5 most common in Africa, the Americas, and Europe, and XBB.1.16 is dominant in Southeast Asia. Elsewhere, XBB.1.9.1 is dominant in the Eastern Mediterranean region, and XBB.1.9.1 (22.7%) and XBB.1.5 (16.2%) make up the biggest proportion of viruses in the Western Pacific.

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