COVID-19 infections have been rising at an alarming rate for eight consecutive weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, as the virus sweeps unabated through hotspots in several corners of the globe.
More than 5.2 million new cases were recorded last week — the most in a single week since the pandemic began — WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news briefing in Geneva on Monday.
Deaths also increased for the fifth straight week, he said, with the pandemic now officially claiming more than 3 million lives.
And Tedros warned that the pace of the pandemic is accelerating, even as some countries tout their own improved vaccination programs.
“It took nine months to reach 1 million deaths, four months to reach 2 million and three months to reach 3 million deaths,” said Tedros. “Big numbers can make us numb, but each one of these deaths is a tragedy for families, communities and nations.”
And, as more at-risk or older adults are fully inoculated and some economies open up, the director-general suggested the brunt of the virus’s spread may be shifting towards younger adults. He told reporters that infections and hospitalizations among people age 25 to 59 are “increasing at an alarming rate,” possibly due to highly transmissible variants and increased social mixing among younger people.
Concerns about more young adults contracting COVID-19 have already been reported by doctors in some hotspots — including Brazil, where a new variant has caused a devastating surge in hospitalizations and deaths.
SHOTS RAMP UP AS VARIANTS CAUSE CONCERN
The stark warning from WHO serves as a reminder of the state of the pandemic, which has not yet dissipated in the face of the world’s disparate vaccine rollouts.
India is suffering from a calamitous second wave of the virus, and a significant portion of the world’s infections is occurring there. The country has reported more than 200,000 new cases on each of the past six days — nearly 1.5 million in the last week — and crowded hospitals are turning away patients as they battle the spread.
Among India’s many active cases is former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is in stable condition in hospital after contracting COVID-19.
With more than 15 million infections, the country is now only second to the United States in global case tallies. The U.S. has reported almost 32 million infections.
England added India to its travel ban list on Monday and Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled a scheduled trip there, but political campaigning is ongoing despite the dire situation.
Narendra Modi’s ruling party said it would hold “small public gatherings” with a cap of 500 people in the state of West Bengal, one of the five states where state elections are currently being held, according to a statement from the party Monday.
Much of Asia is similarly grappling with increasing cases. A surge in Thailand has dampened hopes of welcoming more tourists there, with hospitality venues identified as a cause of recent outbreaks.
In the U.S., where millions of people are being vaccinated daily, cases and hospitalizations have risen over the past month. Experts cite coronavirus variants — including the more contagious B.1.1.7 strain that recently fueled another surge in Michigan — and a spreading sense of pandemic fatigue as contributing factors.
Meanwhile, in Europe, there are some signs of a plateau in the continent’s third wave of infections, and a bumpy vaccine rollout has started accelerating across the European Union.
But vaccine hesitancy and the lingering effects of earlier vaccine scares there are still evident; a mass vaccination center in the southern French city of Nice was forced to close early over the weekend after just 58 people turned up for 4,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine — which may be linked to a very small number of rare blood clot cases — a spokesman for the regional police told CNN.
And European regulators face another decision about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which U.S. authorities paused after a handful of clotting cases were reported. A decision by the European Medicines Agency on the shot is expected Tuesday.