COVID-19 cases are rising across the world as the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant of Omicron spreads at a “very intense level,” the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.
At a news conference on Tuesday, the WHO chief said subvariants of Omicron, like BA.4 and BA.5, continue to drive waves of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths around the world.
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“The virus is running freely and countries are not effectively managing,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom told a virtual press conference from Geneva, Switzerland.
“The waves of the virus demonstrate again that COVID-19 is nowhere near over,” he added.
The spread of BA.5, which is now the dominant version of the virus globally, is of concern because it has a growth advantage over other sublineages, said WHO COVID-19 technical lead Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove.
“The virus is spreading at a very intense level at a global level and our ability to detect cases has reduced since the surveillance strategies have changed,” she told reporters.
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The WHO has seen a substantial increase in reports of BA.5 cases over the last four weeks alone, Van Kerkhove said, adding that the trend is expected to continue around the world.
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The agency is also aware of reports of reinfection, but does not have specifics of sublineages.
WHO began tracking BA.4 and BA.5, in mid-April. They are in addition to previously discovered subvariants BA.1 and BA.2 of Omicron.
Meanwhile, the international Emergency Committee on COVID-19 met on Friday and concluded that COVID-19 remains a public health emergency of international concern.
In a statement on Tuesday, the committee, made up of independent experts, said that rising cases, ongoing viral evolution and pressure on health services in a number of countries meant that the situation was still an emergency.
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COVID-19 cases reported to WHO had risen by 30 per cent in the last two weeks, although increased population immunity, largely from vaccines, had seen a “decoupling” of cases from hospitalizations and deaths, the committee’s statement said.
Canada’s Public Health Agency projects more cases in the coming months due to increases in the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-lineages of Omicron, according to its June 30 statement.
Some sobering figures from Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force released last week showed how quickly the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and its subvariants spread across the country at the end of 2021 and the first few months of this year.
An analysis of data from blood testing suggested that 17 million Canadians were infected in only five months, between December 2021 and May 2022.
— with files from Global News’ Tim Sargent and Reuters
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