Global COVID-19 Infections Rise for Fourth Consecutive Week

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COVID-19 confirmed cases continued to rise around the world for a fourth consecutive week, with around 3.3 million new cases reported in the past seven-day period.

However, the number of new deaths from the coronavirus levelled off after a six-week decrease, with just over 60,000 new deaths reported. According to the World Health Organisations Weekly Epidemiological Update, Europe and the Americas continued to account for nearly eight in 10 of all cases and deaths.

The only region to report a decline in fatalities was the Western Pacific, down nearly a third, compared to the previous week. Infections rose notably in South East Asia, the Western Pacific, Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. In the African region and the Americas, infection numbers have remained stable in recent weeks, although WHO pointed to concerning trends in some countries within these regions.

WHO said that the latest data on coronavirus variants of concern indicates that the so-called UK strain is present in 125 countries, across all six global regions. This variant may be associated with an increased risk of hospitalization, severity and mortality, the WHO noted, pointing to a study involving 55,000 COVID-19 patients where deaths from the UK variant were 4.1 per 1,000, compared with 2.5 per 1,000 among those infected with the previously circulating coronavirus.

On a more positive note, data from vaccine tests conducted in England from December 2020 to February 2021 – when the new UK strain was very prevalent showed the early real-world effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and AstraZeneca vaccine against confirmed COVID-19, hospitalizations and deaths,” WHO explained.

The South African variant is now present in 75 countries across all regions, WHO continued, in over 90 per cent of sequenced specimens in some settings.

Highlighting the results of a study comparing hospital admissions in South Africa during the peak of the first wave of the coronavirus in mid-July 2020 with the second wave that peaked in January 2021 – when variant 501Y.V2 was the predominant variant – WHO pointed out that the risk of in-hospital mortality increased by 20 per cent.

The third variant of concern, P.1, was reported in three additional countries in the last week, bringing the total to 41 nations across all regions. WHO cited a recent analysis of hospitalization and frequency of P.1 in Manaus city, Amazonas State, Brazil, where it was first detected, noting that it has spread widely.

Globally, on March 23, there have been 123,419,065 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 2,719,163 deaths, reported to WHO. As of 22 March 2021, a total of 403,269,879 vaccine doses have been administered