The World Health Organization on Tuesday said weekly new Covid deaths fell to their lowest level since March 2020, but warned that a global drop in testing for the virus could hamper its efforts to fight the pandemic.
15 668 registered in the world of new deaths in the last seven days, with most of that number occurring in Europe and the Americas, according to the WHO. According to the latest WHO epidemiological report, this figure has decreased from more than 18,000 new deaths recorded in the week ended April 17.
Since the end of March, the number of new deaths and cases reported globally has declined, the report says.
The decline in deaths is good news, which “we should welcome with some caution,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a press briefing. He warned that several countries have cut testing for Covid, limiting the WHO’s ability to track the effects of the virus, transmission patterns and evolution.
“This virus will not disappear just because countries have stopped looking for it. It’s still spreading, still changing, and still killing,” Tedros said. “Although mortality is decreasing, we still do not understand the long-term consequences of the infection for those who survive. When it comes to a deadly virus, ignorance does not bring happiness.”
He said the WHO is calling on all countries to support Covid surveillance systems, which include testing and genome sequencing.
According to Dr. Bill Rodriguez, CEO of global diagnostics nonprofit FIND, Covid testing rates worldwide have dropped by 70-90% over the past four months.
Rodriguez, who was a guest expert at the briefing, said the decline in testing is undermining the world’s ability to treat Covid with new therapeutics.
For example, Pfizer’s Paxlovid is an oral antiviral that requires “rapid and accurate testing” before administration, which Tedros says is recommended within five days of symptom onset. He said the testing is one of several issues that limit the effect of an otherwise easy treatment that could prevent hospitalization.
Maria Van Kerkhove, who’s technical lead on Covid-19, also said the global reduction in testing gives her “little confidence in the number of cases reported worldwide.”
“The very fact that we have had massive changes in testing strategies and a huge reduction in the number of tests used around the world, we have very little confidence in what we are actually seeing,” Van Kerkhove said.
More than 4 million new cases have been registered globally in the past seven days, according to the WHO. That number is less than the more than 5 million new cases reported worldwide in the week ending April 17, according to the latest WHO epidemiological report.
Van Kerkhove said the lack of testing limits the world’s ability to monitor new variants of concern, especially sub-series of the omicron variant.
The more contagious sub-variant omicron BA.2 is now the dominant strain worldwide and has caused new Covid surges in Europe and China, which are battling the worst outbreak since 2020.
BA.2 is also spreading rapidly across the US, accounting for 68.1% of all cases circulating in the country in the week ending April 23, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another sub-option, BA.2.12.1, is also gaining momentum in the US, accounting for 28.7% of new cases, according to the CDC.
“The uncertainty that we have about the next option will remain a major concern for us because we have many different types of scenarios to plan for,” Van Kerkhove said.
– Spencer Kimball of CNBC contributed to this report.