WHO: Global Covid-19 cases up 30pc, reduced testing obscuring true picture of evolving virus

The World Health Organisation says a dramatic reduction in testing in many countries is obscuring the true picture of an evolving virus and the real burden Covid-19 is putting on nations, globally.

The world health body said reduced testing means that treatments are not given early enough to prevent serious illness and/or death.

Globally, reported cases have increased nearly 30 per cent over the past two weeks. Four out of six of the WHO sub-regions saw cases increase in the last week.

“In Europe and America, (the new sub-variants) BA.4 and BA.5 are driving waves. In countries like India, a new sub-lineage of BA.2.75 has also been detected, said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in his opening remarks during a virtual press conference last night at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

According to WHO, during the week of June 27 to July 3, over 4.6 million cases were reported, a figure similar to that of the previous week. The number of new weekly deaths dropped by 12 per cent, as compared to the previous week, with over 8,100 fatalities reported.

As of July 2, over 546 million confirmed cases, and over 6.3 million deaths have been reported globally.

A total of 3,561 new cases were reported in Malaysia yesterday. It is the first time since May 13 that the country recorded more than 3,000 daily cases. Five deaths were recorded, including two ‘brought-in-dead’ (BID) cases.

Data from Malaysia’s CovidNow website show that Covid-19 tests began to peak beginning late February to April this year, with the highest daily testing recorded on March 7, at 266,868. Test numbers started to drop in early May, but the numbers have been increasing since June. The latest available data show that a total of 58,399 tests were carried out on July 4.

During the briefing, the world health body also noted that new treatments, especially new oral antivirals, are still not reaching low- and low-middle income countries, depriving whole populations that need them.

“As the virus evolves, vaccine protection – while still effective at preventing serious disease and death – does wane.”

“Decreasing immunity underscores the importance of boosters, especially for the most at-risk,” it added.

The world body has also urged for vaccination and booster shots for those most at risk, including older people, people with chronic illnesses, the immunocompromised, and health workers.

Ghebreyesus also noted the need to make new oral antivirals and other treatments available to all.

“Working with Global Fund and UNICEF, WHO has developed an allocation mechanism to support countries as antivirals become available.”

“So far, 20 countries have accepted allocations for Molnupiravir, which has moved into distribution. For Nirmatrelvir-Ritonavir – or Paxlovid – 43 countries have expressed interest.”

However, he said these organisations are still trying to finalise with Pfizer the appropriate terms and conditions for low- and middle-income countries.

“This is delaying access, and some countries may choose to wait for a generic version of the antiviral, probably available only in early 2023. This will cost lives.”

“I call on Pfizer to work closely with health agencies and countries to ensure its new oral antiviral is available quickly and effectively,” Ghebreyesus said.

In Malaysia, Paxlovid has been used by all government hospitals to treat Categories 2 and 3 patients with mild to moderate symptoms, since mid-April. The drug is also now available in private health facilities for free. Molnupiravir has also been approved by the Drug Control Authority for Covid-19 treatment.

Ghebreyesus added each wave of the virus is also leaving more people with long-Covid or post-Covid conditions.

“This obviously impacts individuals and their families, but it also puts an extra burden on health systems, the wider economy, and society-at-large.

“These challenges require action at a global, national, and local level.”