In its weekly snapshot of the pandemic yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said cases and deaths continue to drop, mainly driven by steep declines in the two highest-burden countries, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Also, the B117 virus variant has now been detected in 94 countries spanning all six WHO regions, with local transmission occurring in 47.
Hot spots remain in Iran, parts of the Americas
The WHO said cases fell 16% last week compared with the previous week, with death declining by 10% over the same period. The five countries with the highest totals are the United States, Brazil, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom Of those, Britain had the largest decline, with a 27% decrease, and the United States was next, with a 23% drop.
The only region seeing a case increase is the Middle East, where cases were up by 7%, though it saw a decline in deaths. Much of the increase was from a spike in Iran, where cases last week were up by 8%.
In the Americas region, cases declined by 10%, and at a briefing today, Carissa Etienne, MBBS, MSc, the head of the WHO's Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said though most countries are reporting drops in cases, hot spots remain, such as Honduras; border areas between Peru, Colombia, and Brazil; and some parts of the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic.
More countries report variants, local spread
The WHO also said more countries have reported their first variant cases, and many are reporting local variant transmission. Eight more reported B117 cases, raising the total to 94, with local spread under way in at least 47 nations
Two more countries reported B1351 detections, pushing the number to 46, including at least 12 in which the variant is spreading locally. And for P1, 6 more countries confirmed their first cases, raising the number to 21. So far, local transmission involving P1 is reported in just two countries in the Americas region.
In other variant developments, German health officials said today that B117 now accounts for 22% of samples, up from 6% earlier this month, according to the New York Times.
Also, Sweden said the B117 variant is fueling an increase in cases, and the government is seeking broader powers to impose stricter measures, according to the Washington Post. In earlier spikes, the country was reluctant to order lockdowns.
Elsewhere, Zambian researchers today detailed the country's first B1351 detections, which began in the middle of December and were linked to a rapid rise in cases. The team described its findings in an early online edition of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The variant made up 96% of specimens tested the week of Dec 16 to Dec 23, before which it hadn't been detected, and the investigators said its predominance in a small cohort of recent cases suggests it may have become the country's dominant lineage.
Other global headlines
- British officials today put forward a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for global cease-fires to allow the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine, according to Reuters.
- UK government officials said today that, following approval from its ethics experts, that it has cleared the world's first human challenge studies with SARS-CoV-2 to begin to advance the investigation of vaccines and treatment.
- The global COVID-19 total today is at 109,836,395 cases with 2,427,316 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.