The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 450 million early Wednesday in the latest sign that the pandemic is not yet over, but the latest report from the World Health Organization confirmed that the numbers are falling in most of the world.
The fresh milestone comes days after the official number of deaths topped 6 million, according to a data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The WHO’s latest weekly epidemiological update shows the number of new cases fell 5% in the week through March 6, while the death toll fell by 8%.
“Across the six WHO regions, over 10 million new cases and over 52 000 new deaths were reported,” said the update.
On a regional basis, just one — the Western Pacific Region — saw cases climb. The number of fresh fatalities also climbed in that region by 29% and in the Eastern Mediterranean by 2%, but fell everywhere else.
The WHO also offered on update on vaccine effectiveness against the highly infectious omicron variant, which has become dominant in the world. That came after a statement on Tuesday from a technical committee on vaccines that offered support for boosters for people at high-risk of severe disease.
The agency had initially opposed booster shots for the masses, because it is concerned that much of the world has not yet received primary doses of vaccine. The WHO has repeatedly warned that leaving vast swaths of the world unvaccinated or with low rates of vaccination will allow new variants to emerge and those could prove resistant to vaccines.
In the U.S., Hawaii Gov. David Ige said his state will be the last to lift its face mask mandate on March 26, the Associated Press reported.
No states will require masks indoors after 11:59 p.m. March 25. Hawaii is the last to drop the pandemic safety measure, with Washington state’s mask mandate expiring at midnight Friday.
Ige said one metric he used to determine that it’s time for the mandate to end is that there were 48 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 Tuesday. He said that’s the first time the number has been under 50 since last summer.
The news comes as U.S. COVID numbers continue to decline. The U.S. is averaging 40,133 new cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, down 51% from two weeks ago. The average daily number of hospitalizations stands at 35,496, down 43% from two weeks ago. Deaths are averaging 1,451 a day, down 26% from two weeks ago, but still an undesirably high number.
What is an endemic and how will we know when Covid-19 becomes one? WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez breaks down how public-health experts assess when a virus like Covid-19 enters an endemic stage. Photo: Michael Nagle/Zuma Press
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• Swedish epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who became the face of Sweden’s no-lockdown pandemic policy, is taking up a role at the WHO, the Swedish Health Agency said Wednesday, as Reuters reported. Tegnell will become a senior expert at a WHO group tasked with coordinating the COVID vaccine response between health and vaccine organizations. More than 17,000 people have died in Sweden from or with COVID-19, many times more per capita than in neighboring Nordic countries but also less than in many other European countries that also opted for lockdowns.
• Austria is scrapping its planned vaccine mandate for adults just weeks after it was enforced, saying the pandemic no longer poses the same risk as it did, news agencies reported. “We see no need to actually implement this compulsory vaccination due to the (Omicron) variant that we are predominantly experiencing here,” said Austrian Federal Minister for the EU Karoline Edtstadler. About 70% of the Austrian population of nine million is vaccinated against COVID.
• Hong Kong announced plans to devote more medical resources to elderly people on Wednesday as COVID-19 infections swept through care homes and deaths climbed rapidly among the mainly unvaccinated seniors, Reuters reported separately. Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters that mass testing was still being considered but the time frame has not yet been decided. The testing plan sparked panic buying of groceries and other essentials in the city.
As countries loosen Covid-19 restrictions, Hong Kong is sticking to a ‘dynamic zero-Covid’ approach – with help from Beijing. A surge in cases has overwhelmed hospitals and threatens business confidence in the global financial hub. Photo: Bertha Wang/Bloomberg
• Israeli opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tested positive for COVID, The Jerusalem Post reported. Netanyahu’s spokesman said he feels well and was following directives. Netanyahu, who took pride in his handling of the virus since its outbreak, had tested negative for COVID-19 consistently, even as staff and others were positive.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global death toll from COVID-19 rose above 6.01 million on Wednesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 79.4 million cases and 961,935 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 216.2 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.1% of the population. But just 95.3 million are boosted, equal to 44.1% of the vaccinated population.