The World Health Organization urged governments and health care systems to take steps to curb COVID-19 transmission as a fresh wave of infections moves across Europe and the US.
Sub-variants of the Omicron strain are lifting case numbers and leading to further fatalities, Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. Tedros, as the head of the WHO is known, recommended the revival of protocols like mask-wearing to stop the spread.
“New waves of the virus demonstrate that COVID-19 is nowhere near over,” Tedros said, adding that he is “concerned about a rising trend of deaths.”
Europe is at the center of a new wave of cases driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants as people attend large gatherings and resume traveling after two years of staying close to home.
In England, an estimated 2.1 million people, or one in 25, tested positive in the final week of June, according to the Office for National Statistics. People can be infected even if they have had COVID previously, but vaccination does help to protect against serious illness.
The WHO is worried that even as cases rise again, surveillance of the virus and new potential variants is on the decline.
Tedros said that a WHO committee reiterated that COVID-19 remains a public health emergency of international concern — the way the global health organization classifies a pandemic.
Noting that many governments are concerned about the BA.5 sub-lineage, particularly anecdotal evidence of the potential for re-infection, the WHO said there is no evidence so far that BA.5 is any more severe than previous Omicron variants or that vaccines and approved treatments are not effective.
Still, “the virus is spreading at a very intense level at a global level,” even as surveillance, including testing and sequencing to detect and identify strains, is declining, said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Technical Lead Officer for COVID-19.
Earlier Tuesday, the WHO’s regional director for Europe recommended that all vulnerable adults and their close contacts receive a second vaccine booster dose.
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Contributor: Andy Hoffman / Bloomberg