Global COVID cases falling, with increases in Japan and Korea

Global cases of COVID-19 fell again last week as the burden of the BA.5-fueled disease shifted to some Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its latest weekly update.

In US developments, the Biden administration today released two new reports on the long-running COVID-19, one on a research action plan and the other on services and supports for people dealing with the long-term effects of the disease.

Cases remain high as secondary variables increase

After a rise in cases worldwide through June, COVID activity appears to be easing, with a 9% drop last week compared to the previous week, the WHO said. Two regions, however, reported increases, the Western Pacific, where cases rose by 20%, and Africa, where illnesses rose by 5%.

The WHO has called for caution in interpreting trends based on cases because of the decline in testing and surveillance.

In the Western Pacific region, the biggest jumps were in Japan, which reported a 42% increase, and South Korea, which reported a 25% increase compared to the previous week.

Cases in Japan are averaging more than 200,000 a day, with health care systems feeling the strain in some areas, in part due to COVID-19 illnesses among staff, according to the Japan Times. South Korea is reporting more than 100,000 cases a day, the highest since mid-April, according to Korea Herald.

In Africa, the largest proportional increases were reported by Liberia, Seychelles and Rwanda.

Of more than 6.5 million cases reported to the WHO last week, the five countries with the most cases were Japan, the United States, South Korea, Germany and Italy.

Deaths were flat last week after rising the previous week, with around 14,000 reported to the WHO, with the United States reporting the most.

The proportions of the most contagious BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants continue to increase. BA.5 prevalence increased from 63.8% to 69.6%, and BA.4 levels increased slightly, from 10.9% to 11.8%.

Biden administration releases lengthy reports on COVID-19

In April, President Joe Biden issued a memo calling for two reports in 120 days, both addressing the challenge of long-term COVID, in which patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 show symptoms — some severe — for months or and years.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the two reports today, one on a research action plan and the other on federal services and supports for people with long-term COVID. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, JD, said, “As our nation continues to make strides in the fight against COVID-19, these reports are critical to shedding light on the impact of Long COVID and how to match people with resources”.

HHS estimates that 7.7 million to 23 million Americans are experiencing long-term COVID-19 and that approximately 1 million are out of the workforce at any given time, amounting to $50 billion in lost earnings each year.

In other COVID-related developments:

  • President Biden, who is recovering from Paxlovid treatment, tested positive for COVID again today for the fifth day in a row, according to a statement from his physician, Kevin O’Connor, DO. He noted that the president has a slight cough but finished a light workout today. Biden will continue to self-isolate and work from the executive residence.
  • The European Medicines Agency has today recommended that pericarditis and myocarditis be listed as new side effects in the product information for the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, due to a small number of reported cases.
  • Cattle can occasionally become infected with SARS-CoV-2, although it is unclear whether the animals can transmit the virus, German researchers reported in a research letter in Emerging Infectious Illnesses. They based their findings on serological testing of samples from German cattle in late 2021.

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