The World Health Organization said it now has data on the XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant from 54 countries, showing it has a growth advantage over other circulating strains but still appears no more severe.
In its weekly epidemiological update, the agency said it has raised the confidence level of its risk assessment for XBB.1.5 to “moderate” from “low,” using these additional reports. The highest number of XBB.1.5 cases are showing up in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland and Austria.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that XBB.1.5 is the dominant strain in the U.S., accounting for 49.1% of new cases last week.
“Based on its genetic characteristics and growth rate estimates, XBB.1.5 is likely to contribute to increases in case incidence globally,” said the update. “There is moderate-strength evidence for increased risk of transmission and immune escape. From reports by several countries, no early signal of an increase in severity has been observed.”
However, it added that the number of cases is still relatively low and severity cannot yet be confidently determined.
The WHO is now tracking four omicron descendent sublineages closely, namely BF.7, BQ.1 (and its sublineages) and BA.2.75, along with XBB and its sublineages.
The update found nearly 1.9 million new cases were reported in the week through Jan. 22, and over 12,000 deaths. In the last 28 days, cases have fallen 25% from the previous 28 days to over 11 million, while fatalities have risen 13% to more than 55,000. As has become its habit, the agency cautioned that numbers may be distorted by reporting changes relating to recent holidays and because countries are not testing and sequencing as much as they were.
In the U.S., the seven-day average of new cases stood at 46,920 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker. That’s down 27% from two weeks ago. The daily average for hospitalizations was down 25% at 35,232. The average for deaths was 548, down 1% from two weeks ago.
Cases are now rising in just seven states; Tennessee, Illinois, Alaska, South Dakota, Vermont, Kentucky and Kansas, along with the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C.
On a per capita basis, they are highest in Tennessee, at 51 per 100,000 residents, followed by Rhode Island, at 27 per 100,000 residents.
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Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• The United Nations forecast that global economic growth will fall significantly to 1.9% this year as a result of the food and energy crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine, the impact of the COVID pandemic, persistently high inflation and the climate emergency, the Associated Press reported. Painting a gloomy and uncertain economic outlook, the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs said the current global economic slowdown “cuts across both developed and developing countries, with many facing risks of recession in 2023.”
• China’s tourism sector has recovered to pre-pandemic levels with travelers venturing out during the Lunar New Year holidays after stringent COVID restrictions were removed, Dow Jones Newswires reported. Bookings for hotels, B&B hotels and tourism tickets in the first four days of the Chinese Lunar New Year as of Wednesday have exceeded bookings for the same period in 2019, before the pandemic, said Trip.com, an online travel agency. Reservations for B&B hotels have more than doubled from the same period a year ago and the number of tourism ticket bookings increased more than 50% from a year earlier, according to Trip.com.
• Jill Biden says her Inauguration Day outfits, now featured in a Smithsonian museum exhibit about first ladies, were a “voice for me on one of the most important days of my life.” The dresses—one blue, one white—with matching coats and pandemic face masks “spoke to the American people then, and now they will continue speaking to generations to come,” she said Wednesday, before mannequins dressed in her clothes were formally added to the exhibit. “They will help tell not only my story, but the story of what Americans experienced together,” the first lady said at the museum.
Here’s what the numbers say:
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 669.6 million on Wednesday, while the death toll rose above 6.79 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 102.2 million cases and 1,106,524 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 229.5 million people living in the U.S., equal to 69.1% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots.
So far, just 50.7 million Americans, equal to 15.3% of the overall population, have had the updated COVID booster that targets both the original virus and the omicron variants.