Global COVID-19 cases fall 28%; deaths drop 22%

New COVID-19 cases worldwide fell 28% last week—marking a fifth straight week of declining cases—and COVID-related deaths dropped 22% from the previous week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its weekly update today.

At a press briefing today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said "the end is in sight" and announced the launch of six policy briefs to outline key steps countries can take to help reach the end of the pandemic.

"Last week," Tedros said, "the number of weekly reported deaths from COVID-19 was the lowest since March 2020. We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We are not there yet, but the end is in sight."

He compared pandemic response efforts to distance running. "A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view. She runs harder, with all the energy she has left. So must we."

Declining cases, deaths

Cases declined in all WHO regions, and deaths were down in all but Africa, where they rose 10%, the WHO said in the update. The five countries reporting the most cases were Japan, South Korea, the United States, Russia, and China.

The largest drop in cases was in the Western Pacific, where they fell 36%, while the smallest decrease was in Europe, where cases dropped 15%. Europe, however, saw the steepest decline in new COVID-19 deaths, which plummeted 31%. The smallest decline in deaths was in the Eastern Mediterranean region, which saw a 10% drop-off.

The WHO report includes its usual caveat, "Current trends in reported COVID-19 cases and deaths should be interpreted with caution 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."

Global cases have reached 610,149,968, while global COVID deaths today reached 6,519,122, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.

Prevalence of the Omicron BA.5 subvariant increased from 82.4% to 90%, the WHO noted. BA.4 descendant lineages continue to decline, from 8.0% the previous week to 6.1% last week. BA.2 descendant lineages increased slightly again, to 3.2%, but the prevalence of BA.2.75 is still low, at 2.2%.

Helping nations maintain response efforts

The six policy briefs released today cover testing, managing illness, reaching vaccination targets, maintaining infection prevention and control steps, communicating effectively, and managing the COVID-19 "infodemic."

Tedros said the briefs are "a summary, based on the evidence and experience of the last 32 months, of what works best to save lives, protect health systems, and avoid social and economic disruption. These policy briefs are an urgent call for governments to take a hard look at their policies, and strengthen them for COVID-19 and future pathogens with pandemic potential."

Some points he added:

  • "We urge all countries to invest in vaccinating 100% of the most at-risk groups, including health workers and older people, as the highest priority on the road to 70% vaccine coverage."
  • "Keep testing and sequencing for SARS-CoV-2, and integrate surveillance and testing services with those for other respiratory diseases, including influenza."
  • "Communicate clearly with communities about any changes you make to your COVID-19 policies, and why."
  • "And train health workers to identify and address misinformation, and develop high-quality health information in digital formats."

"Since New Year's Eve 2019—and every day since then—WHO has worked without rest to warn the world, and to give people everywhere the tools they need to stay safe, save lives, and keep societies functioning," Tedros said.

Vaccine complications in US

In US developments, the nation reported 67,306 new COVID-19 cases today and 510 new deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. The 7-day average of new daily cases is 66,227, with 422 daily deaths, according to the Washington Post tracker. The Johns Hopkins map shows 95,441,727 total US COVID-19 cases to date, including 1,051,606 deaths.

A Stat story today highlights difficulties with vaccine administration errors due to multiple COVID vaccine products in physicians' offices, pharmacies, and other immunization settings. One such problem is that vaccine vials with the new bivalent (two-strain) options look similar to their monovalent (one-strain) counterparts. Some products need diluting, while others don't. And immune-compromised people are on a different dosing schedule than those with healthy immune systems.

This confusing process was a big concern aired during the most recent meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on COVID-19 and other vaccines.

Even before new booster shots were recently approved, more than 5,300 errors in vaccine delivery to children alone were reported, according to CDC data.

"I just honestly feel terrible about the fact that there are so many administration errors that seem disproportionate to what we’ve seen with other vaccines or with the adult [COVID] vaccines," said Grace Lee, MD, MPH, chair of the ACIP.

"This immunization schedule is among the most complex that I've personally had to deal with, and it is constantly changing," she added.

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