Global coronavirus deaths have risen for the fifth straight week, World Health Organization officials said on Tuesday, calling the trend tragic in an era of effective vaccinations.
The 68,000 deaths recorded last week marked a 7% jump from the previous week, WHO incident manager Abdi Mahamud told a news conference. Online Q&A session. That number is likely an underestimate, he and other officials said, because adequate reporting systems aren’t in place around the world.
“The fact that we are seeing an increase in deaths when we have safe and effective vaccines, when more than 10 billion doses of vaccines have been administered to date, when we have diagnostics that work, when we can do getting patients into the clinical care pathway and saving lives is more than tragic,” said WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove.
Since the highly contagious omicron variant was first detected, at least 500,000 deaths have been recorded worldwide, Mahamud said. Of those, around 100,000 were in the United States, he added, saying it was “tragic beyond tragic” to witness in a country with free doses of vaccines. He noted that there are millions of people in the United States who remain resistant to vaccination.
Although cases in the United States have declined, many countries have not yet reached the peak of the omicron surge, Van Kerkhove said. WHO officials are monitoring four omicron sublines, including BA.2, which is more transmissible than even BA.1. There’s no evidence it’s more serious, but Van Kerkhove noted it’s “in its early stages” and “studies are really just ongoing.”
She described the variants as the “wild card” of the pandemic and said the virus had “a lot of wiggle room”. Although omicron is the last variant of concern, she said, it won’t be the last.
“The next one that will hopefully take some time to get there, but with the intensity level of the spread, the possibility that we have other variants is really high,” Van Kerkhove said.