Data show ongoing COVID surge in Americas, new increase in Africa

The latest weekly update from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the COVID-19 pandemic shows new infections continuing to rise, with stabilization in Europe and a reduction in cases in other regions of the world being offset by the ongoing surge in the Americas and a sharp increase in cases in Africa.

Overall, there were more than 4.3 million new infections recorded in the past week, a 4% increase over the previous week. The 75,038 virus-related deaths represented a 1% increase over the previous week.

The global total of confirmed cases is now 73,253,728 with 1,630,211 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard.

Surges in the Americas, Africa

According to the WHO report, the number of new cases in the European Region remained steady for the third straight week, as many countries on the continent impose various measures to stem the spread of the virus. But the region still accounted for 38% of all new global infections in the past week and 46% of COVID-19 deaths.

New COVID-19 cases in the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia dropped by 17% and 13%, respectively, while virus-related deaths in the two regions fell by 14% and 12%.

But the coronavirus surge in the Americas continues unabated, with an 11% increase in new infections over the past 7 days and a 12% increase in deaths. The 2 million new COVID-19 cases and 30,000 deaths are the highest weekly totals reported in the region since the beginning of the pandemic, the WHO said.

While those numbers are largely driven by the United States, COVID-19 cases also continue to rise in Brazil, which reported 300,000 new infections (a 2% increase). Uruguay saw a 48% increase in new cases.

Africa, however, had the biggest surge over the past week, with new cases rising 40% and virus-related deaths climbing 43%. COVID-19 cases on the continent have been rising since early November, after declining in July and August and holding steady in September and October.

The African country seeing the largest increase in infections is South Africa, which has reported the most cumulative cases and deaths on the continent during the pandemic. The WHO says the increase is being driven by infections among 15- to 19-year-olds, and it attributes it in part to alcohol-fueled end-of-school-year celebrations. Four provinces—Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and Western Cape—accounted for 84% of the country's 42,500 new cases.

The surge of COVID-19 cases in the country has led South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to announce new restrictions, according to the New York Times. The measures include restrictions on alcohol sales, an 11:00 pm to 4:00 am curfew, and a ban on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

Cases are also climbing in the Western Pacific region, which saw a 13% increase over the previous week. The increase is being driven largely by Japan, which reported a weekly record of 17,200 new infections, and South Korea, which saw its fifth consecutive week of rising cases and is on the verge of a nationwide lockdown.

New virus variant in England

In other global developments:

  • Public Health England (PHE) has identified a novel strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in parts of the country with a high incidence of infection. PHE says it's not known whether the variant, which includes a mutation in the spike protein, is responsible for the increased numbers of cases in these areas, mainly the south and east. The agency says there is no evidence to suggest that the strain has any impact on disease severity, antibody response, or vaccine efficacy.

  • The government of Singapore says nearly half of the country's migrant workers residing in dormitories have had COVID-19, according to Reuters. The prevalence rate of COVID-19 inside the dormitories is 47%, government officials said in a statement, while the virus's prevalence outside the dormitories is 0.25%. The vast majority of Singapore's 58,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases have occurred in the cramped dormitories.

  • The European Medicines Agency has moved up the date to review safety and efficacy data on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Dec 21, according to the Associated Press. The move came after Germany's health minister and other European officials publicly called for the meeting, which was originally scheduled for Dec 23, to be held sooner.

  • Interim results from a clinical trial of Sputnik V, Russia's coronavirus vaccine, shows an efficacy of 91.4%, according to the New York Times. The data are from a phase 3 trial involving 22,714 volunteers who received either the vaccine or a placebo. Russia approved Sputnik V for emergency use in August, before the phase 3 trial had even begun.

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