WHO chief warns of rise in infections caused by new wave of COVID-19

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JThe World Health Organization has urged governments and health systems to take action to curb the transmission of COVID-19 as a new wave of infections spreads across Europe and the United States.

Subvariants of the Omicron strain are increasing the number of cases and leading to new deaths, Chief Executive Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday during a briefing in Geneva. Tedros, as the head of the WHO is known, recommended reviving protocols like mask-wearing to stop the spread.

“New waves of virus demonstrate that COVID-19 is far from over,” Tedros said, adding that he was “concerned by an upward trend in deaths.”

Read more: Modified COVID-19 boosters in US must target new types of Omicron

Europe is at the center of a new wave of cases driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants as people attend large gatherings and start traveling again after two years near home.

In England, an estimated 2.1 million people, or one in 25 people, tested positive in the last week of June, according to the Office for National Statistics. People can get infected even if they’ve had COVID before, but getting vaccinated helps protect against serious illness.

The WHO is concerned that even though cases are rising again, surveillance for the virus and potential new variants is on the decline.

Tedros said a WHO committee has reiterated that COVID-19 remains a public health emergency of international concern – how the World Health Organization classifies a pandemic.

Read more: Americans still disagree on virtually everything about COVID-19

Noting that many governments are concerned about the BA.5 sublineage, particularly the anecdotal evidence of the potential for reinfection, the WHO said there was so far no evidence that BA.5 is more serious that previous variants of Omicron or approved vaccines and treatments are not effective.

Still, “the virus is spreading at a very intense level globally,” even as surveillance, including testing and sequencing to detect and identify strains, is on the decline, said Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for WHO for COVID-19.

Earlier on Tuesday, the WHO Regional Director for Europe recommended that all vulnerable adults and their close contacts receive a second booster dose of vaccine.

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