Coronavirus Update: WHO recorded some 20 million new COVID-19 cases in January


The World Health Organization said nearly 20 million new COVID cases were recorded in the 28 days through Jan. 29, down 78% from the previous 28 days.

The WHO counted more than 114,000 deaths in the period, up 65% from the previous one.

The agency is switching to a 28-day interval to smooth out weekly fluctuations in cases and deaths, but it continues to caution that a reduction in testing and delays in reporting in many countries are distorting the numbers.

“Current trends in reported COVID-19 cases are underestimates of the true number of global infections and reinfections as shown by prevalence surveys,” the WHO said in its weekly epidemiological update. 

The WHO is now prioritizing four omicron descendent lineages, including XBB.1.5, which is dominant in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The other three are BF.7, BQ.1 and BA.2.75, along with their sublineages. These are currently the ones showing a growth-rate advantage in some countries compared with other circulating variants.

U.S. cases are still declining. The seven-day average of new cases stood at 41,771 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker. That’s down 23% from two weeks ago.

The daily average for hospitalizations was down 22% at 31,593. The average for deaths was 453, down 6% from two weeks ago, but still an undesirably high number heading into the third year of the pandemic and ahead of President Joe Biden’s plan to end the twin COVID emergencies on May 11.

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Coronavirus update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Quest Diagnostics Inc. DGX, -2.13% is the latest healthcare company to report a steep drop in revenue from COVID-related products, in this instance a 74.6% slide in tests in its fourth quarter. Revenue from COVID tests fell to $184 million in the quarter from $722 million a year ago, when the omicron wave was about to crest. But the company still posted better-than-expected earnings, raised its quarterly dividend and added $1 billion to its share-buyback authorization, which has $311 million already available. 

• Hong Kong will give away air tickets and vouchers to woo tourists back to the international financial hub as it races to catch up with other popular travel destinations in a fierce regional competition, the Associated Press reported. During the pandemic, the city largely aligned itself with mainland China’s zero-COVID strategy and has relaxed its entry rules months later than rival destinations such as SingaporeJapan and Taiwan. Even after it reopened its border with mainland China in January, tourism recovery was sluggish. On Thursday, Chief Executive John Lee launched a tourism campaign, “Hello Hong Kong,” saying the city will offer 500,000 free air tickets to welcome tourists from around the world in what he called “probably the world’s biggest welcome ever.”

• Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee has tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time, the AP reported separately. Inslee’s office said in a statement Wednesday that he had tested positive and was experiencing very mild symptoms, including a cough. He is consulting with his doctor about whether to receive Paxlovid antiviral treatments, according to the statement. He plans to continue working. Trudi Inslee, his spouse, has tested negative.

Here’s what the numbers say:

The global tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 671.1 million on Monday, while the death toll rose above 6.83 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 102.5 million cases and 1,109,687 fatalities.

The CDC’s tracker shows that 229.6 million people living in the U.S., equal to 69.2% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots.

So far, just 51.4 million Americans, equal to 15.5% of the overall population, have had the updated COVID booster that targets both the original virus and the omicron variants.

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