Coronavirus Update: WHO warns against treating pandemic as if it’s winding down

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The World Health Organization said Tuesday the coronavirus pandemic remains a public health emergency, and warned that a reduction in surveillance, including testing and sequencing, is making it difficult to assess the impact of new variants.

“The virus is running freely and countries are not effectively managing the disease burden based on their capacity, in terms of both hospitalization for acute cases and the expanding number of people with post-COVID-19 condition — often referred to as long COVID,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a Geneva news briefing.

The agency’s emergency committee unanimously agreed at a Friday meeting that the pandemic continues to adversely impact the health of the world’s population, and that the emergence — and rapid spread — of new variants may present an ever greater health impact.

“The epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 virus infection remains unpredictable as the virus continues to evolve, through sustained transmission in the human population and in domestic, farmed, and wild animals in which the virus was newly introduced,” the committee said in a statement published Wednesday.

The statement highlighted that the public perception that the pandemic may be over is a concern and urged political leaders to help shift that risk perception with more consistent messaging, particularly to communities currently experiencing high levels of transmission.

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The news comes as the daily average of new U.S. cases stood at 129,858 on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 19% from two weeks ago.

The daily average for hospitalizations rose to 38,517 on Tuesday, up 18% in two weeks. And the positivity rate on COVID tests stands at 18%, the highest since Feb. 1. The daily average for deaths is up 5% to 396. 

In the U.K., meanwhile, the new omicron subvariant BA.2.75, which is spreading rapidly in India and has shown up in the U.S., Australia, Germany and Canada, has been dubbed “Centaurus,” the Guardian reported. The new variant is understood to be spreading faster than the BA.5 subvariant.

The WHO is monitoring BA.2.75, but for now data are insufficient to determine whether it is more severe than earlier virus iterations.

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

If you’ve had Covid before, why can you get it again? WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez explains what the possibility of reinfections means for the future of public-health policy and the Covid-19 pandemic. Illustration: David Fang

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• The U.K. hit the grim milestone of more than 200,000 COVID deaths, the Press Association reported, citing Office for National Statistics data. Infections and hospital admissions are once again on the rise, driven by the SARS-CoV-2 subvariant omicron BA.2 — though the number of deaths remains well below levels recorded in previous waves.

• South Korea is expanding booster shots to adults 50 and over as COVID-19 cases creep up again across the country, the Associated Press reported. The 40,226 new cases reported Wednesday marked the country’s highest daily jump in more than two months, although hospitalizations and deaths remain stable.

• Shares of biotech Humanigen HGEN, -78.79% tumbled 76% Wednesday, a day after the company said a National Institutes of Health clinical trial testing lenzilumab and Gilead Sciences Inc.’s GILD, -0.13% Veklury in hospitalized COVID-19 patients did not produce the same benefit as it did in previous studies. 

• The toll of drug-resistant “superbug” infections worsened during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. health officials said Tuesday, the AP reported. After years of decline, 2020 ushered in a 15% increase in hospital infections and deaths caused by some of the most worrisome bacterial infections, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, a CDC expert, called it “a startling reversal” that he hopes was a one-year blip.

Read also: COVID patients with weak immune systems should get priority care to avoid new variants emerging, experts say

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 557.8 million on Wednesday, while the death toll rose above 6.35 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 88.9 million cases and 1,021,871 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 222.4 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 67% of the total population. But just 106.6 million have had a first booster, equal to 47.9% of the vaccinated population.

Just 17.7 million of the people 50 years old and over who are eligible for a second booster have had one, equal to 27.7% of those who had a first booster.

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