After a week of stabilization, global COVID-19 cases are falling again, with declines in two out of four regions that have seen recent increases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today in its latest weekly update on the pandemic .
Part of the decline came from South Africa, which had seen a spike in late April with the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants.
Cases continue to rise in America, Western Pacific
Global cases fell 3% last week compared to the previous week, with deaths down 11% over the same period. WHO has repeatedly called for caution in interpreting trends due to the decline in testing and surveillance in a number of countries.
Out of more than 3.7 million cases reported to the WHO last week, the five countries with the most cases were the United States, China, Australia, Germany and Japan. More than 9,000 people died from their infections, with the US reporting by far the most (1,957).
Cases are still rising in two WHO regions. In the Americas, the 13% increase was led by increases in the United States and Argentina. Large proportional increases have also been reported in some South American countries and in some Caribbean countries.
Cases also continue to rise in the western Pacific region, with infections up 6%. The increase was driven by gains in China and Australia, with proportional spikes in Guam and Fiji.
In Africa, where cases had been rising for a month, both cases and deaths were falling. South Africa’s cases fell by 24% over the past week, although some countries like Ivory Coast reported sharp increases.
Earlier this month, test positivity in South Africa had risen to over 25%. Yesterday, the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced that the positivity rate was 17.3% in the last 24 hours. The country’s fifth wave was smaller than previous ones, and cases have been falling since mid-May.
Last week, the WHO reported an increase in cases in the eastern Mediterranean, but this week’s report shows a 12% drop. However, deaths in the region increased by 30% compared to the previous week.
Omicron continues to dominate
The WHO said the number of submitted SARS-CoV-2 sequences was declining, but almost all were the omicron variant, with BA.2 and its related subvariants dominant. BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5 account for 94%, 0.8% and 1% of the sequences, respectively. Of the BA.2 progeny, BA.2.12.1 – first discovered in New York – accounted for 17%.
Studies are still ongoing to flesh out the properties of the more transmissible Omicron sublineages, the WHO said. In general, countries that have had significant waves from the original Omicron variant are seeing more rapid spread of BA.4, BA.5 and BA.2.12.1, and those that have had stronger BA.2 waves to date appear to be less so have instances of the three subvariants.
“The level of vaccinations in each country is also likely to influence the impact of these emerging Omicron progeny lines,” it added.