COVID deaths jump by 40% in one week, but cases falling globally, new World Health Organization report says

The number of people killed by the coronavirus surged by more than 40% last week, likely due to changes in how COVID-19 deaths were reported across the Americas and by newly adjusted figures from India, according to a World Health Organization report released Wednesday.

In its latest weekly report on the pandemic, the UN health agency said the number of new coronavirus cases fell everywhere, including in WHO’s Western Pacific region, where they had been rising since December.

About 10 million new COVID-19 infections and more than 45,000 deaths were reported worldwide over the past week, following a 23% drop in deaths the week before.

The jump in reported deaths, up from 33,000 last week, was due mainly to an accounting change; WHO noted that countries including Chile and the United States altered how they define COVID-19 deaths.

In addition, more than 4,000 deaths from Maharashtra state in India that wasn’t initially included among the COVID-19 death toll were added last week, according to WHO.

WHO has said repeatedly that COVID-19 case counts are likely a vast underestimate of the coronavirus’ prevalence, and recent research suggests the COVID death toll is about three times higher than the WHO’s official tally. The recent figures, published earlier this month in The Lancet, are based on the number of “excess deaths” in countries around the world. Researchers determined how many additional deaths occurred from January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2021 by modeling the number of “expected” deaths in years unaffected by a global pandemic, compared to the total number who actually from any cause.

The agency cautioned countries in recent weeks against dropping their comprehensive testing and other surveillance measures, saying that doing so would cripple efforts to accurately track the spread of the virus.

“Data are progressively less representative, less timely and less robust,” said WHO. “This inhibits collective ability to track where the virus is, how it is spreading and how it is evolving: information and analyzes that remains critical to effectively end the acute phase of the pandemic.”

The agency warned that less surveillance would particularly harm efforts to detect new COVID variants and weaken a potential response.

Many countries across Europe, North America and elsewhere recently lifted nearly all of their COVID-19 protocols, evaluated on high levels of vaccination to prevent another infection spike even as the more infectious Omicron subvariant BA.2 is causing an update in new cases.

British authorities have said that while they expect to see more cases, they have not seen an equivalent rise in hospitalizations and deaths.

Despite the global decline in reported cases, China islocked down Shanghai this week to try to curb an Omicron outbreak that has caused the country’s biggest wave of disease since the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019.

US officials expanded the use of vaccine boosters Tuesday as regulators said Americans ages 50 and older can get a second booster at least four months after their last vaccination.

An AP-NORC poll, meanwhile found that less than half of Americans now regularly wear face masks, avoid crowds and skip non-essential travel.

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