WHO says COVID-19 deaths down by 15% as cases fall

The number of coronavirus deaths reported worldwide fell by 15% in the past week while new infections dropped by 9%, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

In its latest weekly assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.N. health agency said there were 5.3 million new cases and more than 14,000 deaths reported last week. The WHO said the number of new infections declined in every world region except the Western Pacific.

Deaths jumped by more than 183% in Africa but fell by nearly a third in Europe and by 15% in the Americas. Still, the WHO warned that COVID-19 numbers are likely severely underestimated as many countries have dropped their testing and surveillance protocols to monitor the virus, meaning that there are far fewer cases being detected.

The WHO said the predominant COVID-19 variant worldwide is Omicron subvariant BA.5, which accounts for more than 70% of virus sequences shared with the world’s biggest public viral database. Omicron variants account for 99% of all sequences reported in the last month.

Earlier this week, Pfizer asked U.S. regulators to authorize its combination COVID-19 vaccine that adds protection against the newest Omicron relatives, BA.4 and BA.5, a key step toward opening a fall booster campaign.

The Food and Drug Administration had ordered vaccine makers to tweak their shots to target BA.4 and BA.5, which are better than others at dodging immunity from earlier vaccination or infection.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., regulators authorized a version of Moderna’s updated COVID-19 vaccine last week that includes protection against the earlier Omicron subvariant BA.1. British officials will offer it to people 50 and older beginning next month.

Pfizer has asked U.S. regulators to authorize its combination COVID-19 vaccine that adds protection against Omicron subvariants.

In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Cabinet approved legislation Wednesday that ensures basic protective measures against the COVID-19 pandemic are continued during the fall and winter, when more virus cases are expected.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, millions of students wearing masks streamed back to primary and secondary schools across the country on Monday for their first in-person classes after two years of coronavirus lockdowns.

Officials had grappled with daunting problems, including classroom shortages, lingering COVID-19 fears, an approaching storm and quake-damaged school buildings in the country’s north, to welcome back nearly 28 million students who enrolled for the school year.