The coronavirus continues to stalk the world at an astonishing pace, surpassing a grim succession of pandemic milestones in 2022: a total of 300 million known cases worldwide in early January, 400 million in early February and, as of Tuesday, half a century. billion.
There have almost certainly been many more infections than this among the world’s population of 7.9 billion, many of which go undetected or unreported, and the reporting gap can only widen as some countries , including the United States, are reducing official testing.
“It’s dangerous,” said Ali Mokdad, a University of Washington epidemiologist and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a recent interview. “If you don’t test, you don’t know what variants you have.”
World Health Organization regional officials recently urged African countries to step up testing and contact tracing, and called on some countries in the Americas to step up efforts to increase vaccination and testing as cases remained higher in Europe. (Britain, for example, has ended free testing.) A WHO analysis also recently estimated that 65% of Africans had been infected with the coronavirus in September 2021, almost 100 times the number of confirmed cases on the mainland.
The number of new cases reported each day around the world has been declining for some time now; the average over the past week has been around 1.1 million cases per day, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. This is around 32% less than two weeks ago.
But during the pandemic, countries with limited public health resources may have detected and confirmed only a tiny fraction of the cases in their populations. And more recent numbers may miss many rapid home test results that are never officially reported. Many infected people are never tested at all, because they have no symptoms, or do not have access to testing, or want to avoid the consequences of a positive test result, or choose not to for other reasons.
Coronavirus deaths have also declined. The world has reported around 3,800 a day on average over the past week, down 23% from two weeks ago.
Yet WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently said the world remains in the acute phase of the pandemic, and many health experts agree.
Expert warnings have not stopped many countries from almost completely abandoning pandemic precautions in the two months since the number of global cases topped 400 million. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines in late February suggesting most Americans could stop wearing masks and no longer need to maintain social distancing or avoid crowded indoor spaces.
“What’s happening around the world and in the United States,” Dr. Mokdad said, “is that people have basically given up. They just want to get back to normal life.
This desire is threatened by the rapid spread of the Omicron subvariant known as BA.2, the most transmissible version of the virus yet identified. BA.2 now accounts for the vast majority of new cases in the United States and globally; it spread even faster than BA.1, which helped fuel the surges over the winter.
The peak of the most recent outbreak may have passed in parts of Europe, but Hong Kong is still trying to escape an outbreak that began in January, and Shanghai residents are in lockdown and reporting food shortages .
“The focus on new cases is warranted,” said Crystal Watson, senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in a recent interview. “What we’re seeing in China is a very extreme increase in cases because they haven’t had much exposure to it and the vaccine is less effective there.”
More than 5.1 billion people – around 66.4% of the world’s population – have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project. More than 1.7 billion boosters or extra doses have been administered worldwide. But coverage varies greatly from region to region. Africa’s rates are the lowest of any continent, with around 20% of people having received at least one dose.