COVID surges in many regions fuel steady global rise

Global COVID-19 activity jumped 20% last week compared with the week before, amid surges across multiple regions, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday in its weekly update on the pandemic.

Led by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, a number of countries—ranging from Germany to Brazil—reported new daily record highs.

Deaths show much smaller rise

The robust jump last week, however, was smaller than that of the previous week, which saw the world's cases rise 55%. The WHO said cases last week rose in all regions, except for Africa.

The WHO's Southeast Asia region reported the steepest increase, with all countries except Timor-Leste reporting rises. The Eastern Mediterranean region had the next biggest jump, with all but two countries—Somalia and Libya—reporting rises.

The five countries that reported the most cases are the United States, France, India, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

In the Americas, cases have at least doubled in 17 countries, with activity accelerating in Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Bolivia, officials from the WHO's Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said today at a briefing. Also, hospitalizations are rising in Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.

Deaths were up slightly, with 45,543 fatalities reported last week, the WHO said. Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, said on Twitter about the deaths, "Far far too many when tools can prevent."

Over the past 30 days, 71.9% of sequences shared uploaded to the GISAID database were the Omicron variant, and 28% were the Delta variant.

WHO emergency extends public health emergency

The WHO's emergency committee met for the 10th time on Jan 13 to discuss the latest pandemic developments, and today it detailed its deliberations, which included a unanimous agreement that the situation still warrants a public health emergency of international concern under the International Health Regulations (IHR).

The group last met in late October, before the Omicron variant was detected. The emergency committee typically meets every 3 months or more often as needed.

At their meeting, held virtually, the group members praised South Africa for its rapid identification of the Omicron variant and how quickly it shared information. They raised concerns, however, about blanket travel bans, which didn't help suppress Omicron spread and may discourage countries from reporting emerging new variants of concern.

Other issues the group discussed included difficulties some countries are having in obtaining and affording vaccine, reports of violence against COVID-19 medical responders, and challenges countries face keeping people engaged in the battle against COVID-19.

Committee members modified or extended their current recommendations and added one new one, which urges countries to conduct epidemiologic investigations into human-animal transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and to beef up surveillance for possible animal hosts and reservoirs.

More global headlines

  • In Europe, Germany, the Czech Republic , and Bulgaria reported new daily records for COVID-19 cases today. The United Kingdom is stepping down some of its restrictions now that its Omicron peak has passed and intensive care unit numbers are falling. Meanwhile, Switzerland has extended its quarantine and work-from-home measures into February.

  • In Latin America, Brazil yesterday reported daily record cases, with some hospitals feeling pressure. About 70% of Brazilians are fully vaccinated, and this week the country rolled out vaccination to children ages 5 to 11 years old.

  • Vietnam confirmed its first locally acquired Omicron cases, which include three infections detected in Ho Chi Minh City, according to Reuters, citing the country's state media.

  • The global total today climbed to 335,607,052 cases, and 5,560,227 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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