WHO: Subvariants fueling COVID rises in more than 50 countries

Woman in car gettnig nasal swab COVID test
Woman in car gettnig nasal swab COVID test

US Army, Matthew Lucibello / Flickr cc

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) today warned that rising COVID-19 cases are creating a volatile situation, posing the most risk for countries with low vaccination coverage.

The United States is one of the countries with rising cases, with hospitalizations now showing a small increase, according to the latest data.

Concerns outlined ahead of global summit

At a briefing today, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the WHO's director-general, said the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are driving South Africa's surge, with the BA.2 subvariant dominant across the world and COVID-19 cases rising in more than 50 nations.

Relatively high population immunity from vaccination or previous infection are so far keeping hospitalizations and deaths at a lower levels than previous surges. "But this is not guaranteed for places where vaccination coverage is low."

He said South African scientists are pushing more vaccination to blunt the impact of the next pandemic wave. Along with saving lives and protecting health systems, immunization has the potential to minimize long COVID, which can be devastating for individuals, communities, and economies, Tedros added.

The Global Summit on COVID-19 coming up on May 12 is another opportunity to prepare for what comes next with the pandemic, which could include a variant that evades immunity, transmits more easily, or causes more severe disease.

In a separate statement, the WHO commended the United States, Belize, Germany, Indonesia, and Senegal for bringing governments together for the latest summit, which it hopes will lead to concrete commitments about vaccination and other measures to boost health security.

It said the ACT Accelerator is making progress on its plan to address health inequities, but so far only 10% of financing needs have been met. The WHO called on richer countries to help bridge the effort's $15 billion financing gap to help end the pandemic.

US COVID-19 hospitalizations increase

In US COVID developments, recently released federal data show that nearly 2,400 coronavirus-positive people are being admitted to the hospital each day, an increase of 17% in the past week, ABC News reports.

Though daily cases have increased steadily over the past several weeks, hospitalizations and deaths have remained encouragingly steady. But, as more states report significant virus activity, hospitalizationa are now also increasing.

Puerto Rico, Vermont, and Maine are among the areas of the country now seeing elevated COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the Wall Street Journal reports, despite having some of the highest vaccination rates in the country.

Omicron subvariants, which can evade vaccine immunity, may be to blame for the rise in cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Nowcast estimates that BA.2 accounts for 56.4% of new US COVID-19 cases, and BA.2.12.1 accounts for 42.6%.

The 7-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases is 73,056, with 367 daily deaths, according to the New York Times tracker. And the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Protect Public Data Hub shows 19,415 inpatient beds in use for COVID-19.

Pediatric COVID-19 cases also increased this past week, as has been the trend for the past month. More than 62,400 child COVID-19 cases were reported for the week ending May 5, according to the latest update from the American Academy of Pediatrics. That marks an increase of 69% over the past 2 weeks.

CIDRAP News Reporter Stephanie Soucheray contributed to this story.

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