The number of coronavirus cases rose 18% in the last week, with more than 4.1 million cases reported worldwide, the World Health Organization reported.
In its new weekly report, the United Nations health agency said the global death toll had remained relatively similar to the previous week, at around 8,500. COVID-19-associated deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the Americas.
The largest weekly increase in infections was recorded in the Middle East, where it increased by 47%. Infections rose by around 32% in Europe and Southeast Asia, and 14% in the Americas, according to the WHO.
Cases were on the rise in 110 countries, driven primarily by the BA.4 and BA.5 variants of omicron.
“This pandemic is changing, but it is not over,” WHO Director Tedros Adhanom told a news conference.
The ability to track the genetic evolution of COVID-19 is “threatened,” he said, as countries have relaxed controls and genetic sequencing efforts. That could make it more difficult to identify potentially dangerous new variants.
Tedros called on countries to immunize their most vulnerable populations, such as medical personnel and those over 60, noting that hundreds of millions of people remain unvaccinated and are at risk of serious illness and death.
Although more than 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide, the average immunization rate in poor countries is around 13%, Tedros said.
“If rich countries are vaccinating children as young as 6 months and planning to do new rounds of vaccination, it is incomprehensible to suggest that lower-income countries should not vaccinate and boost their highest risk (people),” he warned.
According to figures compiled by Oxfam and the People’s Vaccine Alliance, less than half of the 2.1 billion vaccines promised to poor countries by the Group of Seven major economies have been delivered.
The United States this month authorized vaccination of infants and preschool children against COVID-19 and unveiled a national plan targeting 18 million young children.
U.S. officials have also recommended that some adults get booster doses in the fall adjusted for new strains of coronavirus.