Global COVID-19 Cases ‘Increased Sharply’ as Deaths Decrease 10 Percent: WHO

Global COVID-19 Cases ‘Increased Sharply’ as Deaths Decrease 10 Percent: WHO
People wait in line at a testing site to receive a free COVID-19 PCR test in Farragut Square in Washington, on Dec. 28, 2021. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Jack Phillips
Worldwide cases of COVID-19 “increased sharply” in the past week but the overall number of deaths dropped, said the World Health Organization (WHO) in its weekly epidemiological update on Thursday.

Between Dec. 27, 2021, and Jan. 2, 2022, the number of cases increased by 71 percent compared to the previous week, according to the U.N. health agency. The number of deaths dropped by 10 percent worldwide, WHO said.

“This corresponds to just under 9.5 million new cases and over 41 000 new deaths reported during the last week. As of 2 January, a total of nearly 289 million cases and just over 5.4 million deaths have been reported globally,” WHO’s update said.

While WHO didn’t make mention of Omicron, it’s likely the newly discovered variant sparked the latest rash of infections. This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that Omicron makes up about 95.4 percent of all COVID-19 cases, supplanting the previously dominant Delta strain.

The drop in deaths as cases rise also suggests the Omicron variant presents milder symptoms than previous variants, including Delta. A number of recent studies have shown the strain causes fewer hospitalizations, while doctors and public health officials have said that COVID-19 hospitalization data may be skewed because people might test positive for the virus after going to the hospital for another medical issue.

People queue for COVID-19 tests in Paris, on Dec. 23, 2021. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)
People queue for COVID-19 tests in Paris, on Dec. 23, 2021. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

“We are seeing more and more studies pointing out that Omicron is infecting the upper part of the body. Unlike other ones, the lungs who would be causing severe pneumonia,” World Health Organization (WHO) Incident Manager Abdi Mahamud told journalists on Tuesday. However, he cautioned that “more studies” are needed to back up such claims.

But with the drop in deaths and hospitalizations, he added, “What we are seeing now is … the decoupling between the cases and the deaths.”

The reason why, Mahamud continued, is likely because Omicron is infecting the upper respiratory tract rather than lower in the lungs, which could then cause severe pneumonia.

Meanwhile, some experts have said policymakers should focus less on counting COVID-19 cases and instead focus on hospitalization or death figures.

Officials should also be “shifting our focus, especially in an era of vaccination, to really focus on preventing illness, disability, and death, and therefore counting those,” Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, director of Columbia University’s ICAP, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

And late last year, Ashish K. Jha, dean of Brown University and a former Harvard professor, made a similar comment during an interview with ABC.

“For two years, infections always preceded hospitalizations which preceded deaths, so you could look at infections and know what was coming,” Jha said. “Omicron changes that. This is the shift we’ve been waiting for in many ways.”

President Joe Biden in December said his administration would deploy some 500 million at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits starting in January. That notion was reaffirmed by White House press secretary Jen Psaki in remarks this week when she said that the first at-home tests would be distributed later this month.

“We’re on track to start seeing movement on some of the awards through the RFP (request for proposals) this week,” she told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “The first delivery from manufacturers will start later this month. That’s our expectation.”

Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter with 15 years experience who started as a local New York City reporter. Having joined The Epoch Times' news team in 2009, Jack was born and raised near Modesto in California's Central Valley. Follow him on X:
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