Figures showing a global increase in COVID-19 infections may foreshadow a far larger problem, while some countries report a reduction in testing rates, the WHO warned on Tuesday, urging governments to be cautious against the virus.
According to the WHO, the increases were caused by a mix of causes, including the highly transmissible Omicron variation and its BA.2 sublineage, as well as the raising of public health and social policies.
"These increases are occurring despite reductions in testing in some countries, implying that the cases we're witnessing are only the top of the iceberg," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
Low vaccination rates in some countries, caused in part by a "great quantity of disinformation," also contributed to the spike, according to WHO authorities.
Globally, new infections increased by 8% compared to the previous week, with 11 million new cases and nearly 43,000 new deaths reported from March 7-13. It is the first increase since the beginning of January.
The greatest increase occurred in the WHO's Western Pacific region, which includes South Korea and China, where cases increased by 25% and deaths increased by 27%.
Africa experienced a 12% increase in new cases and a 14% increase in deaths, while Europe saw a 2% increase in cases but no increase in deaths. Other regions showed a drop in instances, notably the eastern Mediterranean, albeit this region saw a 38 percent increase in mortality connected to a previous spike in infections.
A number of scientists have expressed alarm that Europe is on the verge of another coronavirus outbreak, with instances increasing in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom since the beginning of March.
At the briefing, WHO's Maria Van Kerkhove stated that BA.2 appears to be the most transmissible variety thus far.
However, there is no indication that it causes more severe disease, nor is there evidence that any other new variants are causing the rise.
However, scientists have begun to warn that the United States may soon experience a wave similar to that witnessed in Europe, fueled by BA.2, the easing of restrictions, and the possibility of losing protection from vaccines given several months ago.
"I agree with the relaxation of limits because it is no longer an emergency after two years," Antonella Viola, an immunology professor at Italy's University of Padua, said.
"We only have to keep in mind that COVID is still present. As a result, maintain the strictly necessary procedures, which primarily include continual monitoring and tracking of cases, as well as the requirement to wear a mask in enclosed or extremely crowded areas."
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