WHO: World coronavirus cases fall 24%; deaths rise in Asia

LONDON (AP) — New cases of the coronavirus reported globally fell by nearly a quarter in the past week, while deaths fell 6 percent, but were still higher in parts of Asia, according to a World Health Organization report from Thursday on the pandemic.

The United Nations health agency said 5.4 million new cases of COVID-19 were reported last week, a 24 percent drop from the previous week. Infections declined worldwide, including by almost 40% in Africa and Europe and by a third in the Middle East. Deaths from COVID increased in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia by 31% and 12% respectively, but declined or remained stable everywhere else.

At a press conference on Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that deaths from the coronavirus in the past month have increased by 35%, noting that there had been 15,000 deaths last week.

“15,000 deaths a week is completely unacceptable, when we have all the tools to prevent infections and save lives,” Tedros said. He said the number of virus sequences shared each week has plummeted by 90%, making it very difficult for scientists to monitor how mutating COVID-19 might be.

“But none of us are helpless,” Tedros said. “Please get vaccinated if you haven’t, and if you need a booster, get one.”

On Thursday, WHO’s vaccine advisory group recommended for the first time that people most vulnerable to COVID-19, including the elderly, those with underlying health conditions and healthcare workers, receive a second booster shot. Numerous other health agencies and countries made the same recommendation months ago.

The panel also said it had evaluated data on the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for the youngest and said children and adolescents were in the lowest priority group for vaccination because it is much less likely to suffer from serious illnesses.

Joachim Hombach, who sits on the WHO’s vaccine expert group, said it was also uncertain whether experts would approve widespread boosters for the general population or new combination vaccines that target the omicron variant.

“We have to see what the data will tell us and we have to really see (what) the advantage will be of these vaccines that include an (omicron) strain,” he said.

Dr Alejandro Cravioto, chairman of the expert group, said that unless vaccines were proven to stop transmission, their widespread use would be “a waste of vaccine and a waste of time”.

Earlier this week, British authorities authorized an updated version of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine that targets the omicron, and the UK government announced that it would be offered to people over 50 in from next month.


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