At the global level, COVID-19 cases declined for the fourth week in a row, which the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said is encouraging, though not a guarantee that the trend will persist in the months ahead.
SARS-CoV-2 'will not just fade away'
In its weekly update on the pandemic, the WHO said cases dropped by 12% last week compared to the week before. Cases fell in all six of the WHO's regions.
At a WHO briefing today, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, warned that it's dangerous to assume COVID cases will continue to fall. "You might be tired of hearing me say the pandemic is not over. But I will keep saying it until it is. This virus will not just fade away," he said.
Tedros said the WHO understands that countries are juggling multiple challenges and competing priorities. To help countries reassess and recalibrate their policies, he announced that the WHO next week will publish a set of six short policy briefs that outline essential steps governments can take to reduce transmission and save lives. The categories include testing, clinical management, vaccination, infection prevention and control, risk communication and community engagement, and managing misinformation.
Of about 4.2 million cases reported last week, the five countries with the most cases were Japan, the United States, South Korea, Russia, and China.
Deaths drop as BA.5 becomes more dominant
Overall deaths also declined last week, falling 5% compared to the week before. However, three regions reported rises: Africa, the Americas, and the Western Pacific.
Tedros said deaths have dropped more than 80% since February, but even so, last week one person died from COVID-19 every 44 seconds. "Most of these deaths are avoidable."
Over the past 2 weeks, the proportion of the Omicron BA.5 variant increased its dominance, from 84.8% to 86.8%, the WHO said. The numbers of Omicron BA.4 descendent lineages declined, including BA.4.6, which has been slowly rising in the United States. Meanwhile, the proportions of BA.2 lineages remained stable, though some countries are seeing increasing BA.2.75 trends.
In related global developments:
- In ongoing efforts to negotiate an international accord on pandemic preparedness and response ahead of a second round of public hearings later this month, the WHO is inviting the public to submit video statements from Sep 9 to Sep 13 on what, based on experience with COVID-19, should be improved at the international level to better protect against future pandemics.
- A new public-private partnership to scale up COVID-19 testing and treatment in developing countries announced that it will support health ministries in 10 low- and middle-income countries to provide oral antiviral treatments quickly to high-risk patients and broaden access through 2023. A statement from the COVID treatment QuickStart consortium said the countries are Ghana, Kenya, Laos, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Pfizer donated 100,000 courses of Paxlovid, which will kickstart the program.
Kids' COVID cases rise in US
Though US COVID cases continue to fall, illnesses in children last week rose for the second week in a row, according to the latest update from the American Academy of Pediatrics. About 90,600 infections in kids were reported, up 14% from 2 weeks ago. Cases had plateaued since the middle of May, fluctuating between a low of 68,000 and 112,000 weekly cases.
In other developments
- Yesterday at a White House COVID-19 committee briefing, response coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, said that, barring any new variants, most Americans are moving to a point where a single, annual COVID shot could protect against infection all year long, much like flu, according to NPR. He warned that older people and those at risk for complications may need to be boosted more often. Some experts warned, however, that an annual booster strategy could be hurt by low uptake. Also, US health officials have started talks on developing more broadly protective shots and making them easier to administer.
- The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today announced the launch of a web-based dashboard that contains information on SARS-CoV-2 variants detected in animals.