Quick takes: Global COVID ebb, US pandemic pushback, testing China travelers, Singapore COVID-19 review

News brief
  • In its weekly pandemic update yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said COVID-19 cases declined 58% over the past 28 days, with deaths down 65% over the same period. It urged caution in interpreting the data, owing to reduced testing and reporting. Cases declined in all regions except Europe, where illnesses were up 12%. Deaths fell in all regions except for the Eastern Mediterranean, where the level rose 18%. The proportion of recombinant Omicron viruses, mainly XBB.1.5, rose to 44.1%, while BA.2 lineage viruses remained stable.
  • Lawsuits and legislation over COVID-19 response measure have weakened public health authority and the ability to respond to future pandemics, the Washington Post reported yesterday. It noted that at least 30 states have passed laws since 2020 limiting public health authorities and that more than half the country is barred from issuing mask mandates, closing schools, and taking other response steps.
  • Australia is the latest country to announce that a COVID-19 testing requirement for travelers arriving from China will end, effective March 11, according to Reuters. South Korea announced a similar step yesterday, and earlier this week the Washington Post reported that the United States is expected to end its requirement as soon as this week. Several countries imposed the testing policy because of a surge in China that followed its relaxed "zero COVID" policies and concerns about the possibility of new SARS-CoV-2 variants coming from China.
  • Singapore has released a white paper on its COVID-19 response, which said the country did well with early vaccine rollout and boosting healthcare resilience, but could have done better with mask policies, safety messaging, and how it handled early large outbreaks in migrant worker dormitories, Channel News Asia reported.

New collaboration aims to expand access to rapid molecular TB tests

News brief

The Stop TB Partnership; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) today announced a collaboration with India's Molbio Diagnostics to bring down the cost of rapid molecular tests for tuberculosis (TB).

The deal will provide three of Molbio's rapid molecular assays (Truenat MTB, MTB Plus, and MTB-RIF Dx) at a reduced cost in the countries supported by the three organizations. The tests were endorsed by the World Health Organization in 2020 for the diagnosis of TB and detection of drug-resistant TB in adults and children, but high operating costs and insufficient infrastructure have been among the barriers to uptake. Less than 40% of people in need of TB testing in 2021 had access to rapid tests.

USAID will provide guidance and best practices for introducing and scaling up the tests in high–TB-burden countries.

"USAID is committed to creating a TB-free world, and that starts with expanding access to critical diagnostic testing to reach every person with TB," Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, USAID's assistant administrator for global health, said in a press release. "This new technology will allow countries to expand rapid TB diagnostic testing to more rural, hard-to-reach populations at the primary care level—and at a significantly lower cost than current testing options."

"We are thrilled by this collaboration with a company from the highest TB burden country that fully understands the need for securing access to a rapid molecular diagnosis for everyone in need," said Stop TB Partnership Executive Director Lucica Ditiu, MD.

The collaboration will extend similar pricing to private- and public-sector buyers and ensure regular maintenance of the testing equipment.

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