The coronavirus pandemic is still a global health emergency, according to the World Health Organization, but an advisory panel has determined that it may be nearing an inflection point where higher levels of immunity will lead to fewer deaths.
That was the message Monday from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the agency’s annual executive board meeting. He said that the world is in a far better state today than it was a year ago, when the omicron wave was at its peak.
But Tedros cautioned that weekly reported deaths have been climbing since the beginning of December, at a cost of more than 170,000 lives.
“And that’s just the reported deaths; we know the actual number is much higher,” Tedros said at the meeting. “We can’t control the virus, but we can do more to address the vulnerabilities in populations and health systems.”
Vaccination remains the key tool, he said, and countries must vaccinate 100% of their most at-risk groups and increase access to testing and early antiviral use. When there is a surge in cases, countries need context-specific measures, including maintaining and expanding laboratory networks.
“And it means fighting misinformation,” he said. “We remain hopeful that in the coming year, the world will transition to a new phase in which we reduce hospitalizations and deaths to the lowest possible level, and health systems are able to manage COVID-19 in an integrated and sustainable way. “
His comments comes as U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to fall, with the seven-day average of new cases standing at 46,021 on Sunday, according to a New York Times tracker. That’s down 25% from two weeks ago.
The daily average for hospitalizations was down 22% to 33,451. The average for deaths was 521, down 8% from two weeks ago.
Cases are currently rising in just nine states, as well as in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Tennessee is leading with total case counts, which are up 104% in two weeks, and also on a per capita basis, with 51 cases per 100,000 residents.
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Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• Chinese health officials are saying that the wave of cases that emerged after the government dropped strict COVID restrictions in December is “coming to an end,” BBC News reported. China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention said there had been “no obvious rebound” in cases during Lunar New Year holiday gatherings last week. “In this time, no new variant has been discovered, and the country’s current wave is coming to an end,” said China’s CDC. China has understated its COVID numbers throughout the pandemic, but experts say the decline reported now corresponds with the expected timing of an end to this major wave.
• China announced it would resume issuing visas for Japanese travelers beginning Sunday, ending its nearly three-week suspension that was an apparent protest of Tokyo’s tougher entry requirements for tourists from China, the Associated Press reported. The statement was posted on the Chinese Embassy’s website. Japan reopened its borders for individual tourists in October, allowing travelers to show proof of vaccination instead of testing at airports unless they show symptoms, but on Dec. 30, Japan began requiring all travelers from China to show a predeparture negative test and take an additional test upon arrival.
• A former Russian Orthodox monk who denied that the coronavirus existed and defied the Kremlin was handed a seven-year prison sentence Friday, the AP reported separately. Nikolai Romanov, 67, who was known as Father Sergiy until his excommunication by the Russian Orthodox Church, urged his followers to disobey the Russian government’s lockdown measures and spread conspiracy theories about a global plot to control the masses. A court in Moscow convicted him of inciting hatred. His lawyer immediately announced plans to appeal.
Here’s what the numbers say:
The global tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 670.4 million on Monday, while the death toll rose above 6.82 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 102.3 million cases and 1,107,646 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.