Global COVID-19 cases fall 11%, deaths drop 3%

Health workers testing for pathogens
Health workers testing for pathogens

US Navy, Leonard Adams / Flickr cc

Since peaking in January, COVID-19 cases worldwide have steadily fallen, dropping 11% last week compared with the week before, and COVID deaths have declined 3%, but cases continue to rise in the Americas region, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today in its weekly update.

In US news, pediatric cases have doubled in the past 4 weeks, while a report reveals that the Omicron variant has been particularly deadly in older people.

Cases up 9% in Americas

National officials reported more than 3.3 million cases in the week ending May 29, with more than 9,600 deaths, the WHO said.

Cases last week fell in four WHO global regions but increased 9% in the Americas and 1% in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The number of weekly deaths climbed 18% in the Western Pacific, 15% in Africa, and 13% in the Americas, the agency said. Deaths declined elsewhere across the globe.

"These trends should be interpreted with caution," the WHO warned, "as several countries have been progressively changing COVID-19 testing strategies, resulting in lower overall numbers of tests performed and consequently lower numbers of cases detected."

The most new weekly cases were reported from the United States (736,298 new cases; +3%), China (576,367 new cases; +6%), Australia (294,128 new cases; -18%), Japan (203,365 new cases; -18%), and Germany (183 844 new cases; -38%). The United States also had the most COVID-19 deaths (2,461), followed by Brazil, Italy, Russia, and China, with those four nations ranging from 578 to 826 new deaths.

The Omicron variant accounts for almost all SARS-CoV-2 samples analyzed, with the BA.2 subvariant still highly dominant, though it declined a bit as a proportion of all viruses, from 78% to 75%. The BA.1 subvariant has also declined in prevalence, from 7% to 4%, while BA.2.12.1 has risen from 11% to 16%. BA.4 has risen from 2% to 3%, and BA.5 has risen from 1% to 2%.

In a media briefing today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said, "Once again, the pandemic is not over. We continue to call on all countries to maintain testing and sequencing services, to give us a clearer picture of where the virus is spreading, and how it's changing."

Global COVID-19 totals today reached 530,382,097 cases and 6,293,630 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.

Concern over North Korea outbreak

Those figures, however, don't include potentially millions of cases in North Korea, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). In today's briefing, WHO officials expressed frustration over the country's lack of transparency in reporting COVID data.

"What I can say is that the total number of fevered persons—people suspected with COVID-19—is over 3.7 million reported from DPRK," said Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the WHO COVID lead. She says the WHO has repeatedly offered support in multiple ways and added, "There are many recoveries that have been reported, but there is limited information that we have from the country currently."

Mike Ryan, MD, MPH, executive director of health emergencies at the WHO, said, "We have a real issue in getting access to raw data and the actual situation on the ground." He said the WHO has offered vaccine three times to no avail, and he expressed concern over the potential for rapid disease spread in a mainly susceptible population in a country with an already weakened healthcare system.

"This is not good for the DPRK, this is not good for the region, this is not good for the world," he said. "We assume that the situation is getting worse, not better. But, again, it's very, very difficult to provide a proper analysis to the world when don't have access to the necessary data."

North Korean officials said in a statement today that its COVID activity is slowing, according to Reuters.

US data reflect impact on young, old

In the United States, meanwhile, officials reported 198,400 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and 2,272 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. The 7-day average of new daily cases is 89,489, with 298 daily deaths, according to the Washington Post tracker. That's compares with 107,316 daily cases and 312 daily deaths about a week ago.

COVID-19 cases have plateaued in New York City, a sign that the wave of cases driven by BA.2.12.1 may be slowing, ABC News reports.

More than 112,000 COVID-19 cases in children were reported for the week ending May 26, however, a doubling of case counts from 4 weeks prior and up from 107,000 the previous week, according to the latest update from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Also, COVID-19 killed older Americans at vastly higher rates during this winter's Omicron surge than it did last year, the New York Times reports. Almost as many Americans ages 65 and over died in 4 months of the Omicron surge as did in 6 months of the earlier surge caused by the Delta variant.

The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows that 66.7% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 77.9% have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 46.7% of those eligible have received their first booster dose.

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