COVID-19 deaths fall for first time since January, WHO says

A man gets a throat swab at a residential compound in Wuhan.
A man gets a throat swab at a residential compound in Wuhan. The Chinese city has reported more than dozen new coronavirus cases this week, prompting the authority to step up precautious measures.
(Chinatopix via Associated Press)

The number of new coronavirus cases around the world fell 21% in the last week, marking the third consecutive week that cases have dropped, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

In the U.N. health agency’s weekly pandemic report, WHO said there were more than 12 million new coronavirus infections last week. The number of new COVID-19 deaths fell 8% to about 67,000 worldwide, the first time weekly deaths have fallen since early January.

The Western Pacific was the only region that saw an increase in COVID-19 cases, with a 29% jump, while the number of infections elsewhere dropped significantly. The highest number of new COVID-19 cases were seen in Russia, Germany, Brazil, the U.S. and South Korea.


The number of deaths rose in the Western Pacific and Africa while falling everywhere else.

WHO said the Omicron variant remains the overwhelmingly dominant strain worldwide, accounting for more than 99% of sequences shared with the world’s biggest virus database. It said Delta was the only other variant of significance, though it comprised fewer than 1% of shared sequences.

WHO also reported that available evidence shows that “booster vaccination substantially improves” vaccine effectiveness against Omicron, but said more details are still needed on how long such protection lasts.

The agency had previously said there was no proof that boosters were necessary for healthy people and pleaded with rich countries not to offer third doses to their people before sharing them with poorer countries.

If we’ve learned anything, it’s that the virus has an extraordinary ability to adapt — and is unpredictable.

Health officials have noted that Omicron causes milder disease than previous coronavirus variants. In countries with high vaccination rates, Omicron has spread widely but COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates have not increased substantially.

Scientists, however, warn that it’s still possible that more transmissible and deadly variants could still emerge if the virus is allowed to spread uncontrolled.

Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s Europe chief, says the region is now entering a “plausible endgame” for the virus and said there is now a “singular opportunity” for authorities to end the acute phase of the pandemic.

This week, Britain announced it would scrap all remaining COVID-19 restrictions, including the requirement for people with the illness to self-isolate, even as Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged there could be future deadly variants of the virus.

Earlier this month, Sweden abandoned wide-scale testing for COVID-19 even in people with symptoms, saying that testing costs and the expense of its pandemic restrictions were “no longer justifiable.”

Hong Kong’s leader, meanwhile, announced Tuesday that the city will test its entire population of 7.5 million people three times in March as it grapples with its worst outbreak yet, driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.