The World Health Organization warns new variants of COVID-19 are spreading and people must remain vigilant and employ public health measures to protect themselves from contracting and transmitting the deadly disease. 

The latest WHO figures show reported cases of COVID-19 have increased nearly 30 percent globally over the past two weeks. Current figures stand at nearly 558 million, including more than 6.3 million deaths. 

Data show BA.4 and BA.5 variants are driving new waves of the disease in Europe and the United States, while a different variant has been found in countries like India. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said testing for COVID-19 has gone down dramatically, obscuring the true extent of the current disease surge. That, he warned, means too many people are not getting the treatments needed to prevent serious illness or death. 

“As the virus evolves, vaccine’s protection, while it still is really effective at preventing serious diseases and death, does wane. Decreasing immunity underscores the importance of boosters, especially for the most at risk,” Tedros said.

Tedros said the dangers posed by the new variants are high in developed countries, but are even greater in poorer countries, where people do not have access to new treatments and oral antivirals. 

The WHO executive director for health emergencies, Mike Ryan, said every country has gaps in its national readiness, preparedness, and surveillance plans. He said countries can and must do more to boost their pandemic response in tackling the new surge in COVID-19 cases. 

“We will see differential impacts in countries. So, depending on how strong that wall of immunity is in your community, depending on how well you deal with the vulnerabilities that people have, and depending on how well you are prepared to deal with that, I think we are going to see further waves of disease. And I think we will see them have a very differential impact between countries,” Ryan said. 

The World Health Organization urges people to implement tried and tested public health measures, such as testing, masking and vaccinating to protect themselves. 

Additionally, the WHO says it is crucial to accelerate research and development into next generation vaccines, tests and treatments to keep pace with the evolution of the coronavirus. 

 

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