The number of new coronavirus cases globally increased by 7 per cent in the last week, driven by rising infections in the Western Pacific, even as reported deaths from COVID-19 fell, the World Health Organization said.
There were more than 12 million new weekly cases and just under 33,000 deaths, a 23 per cent decline in mortality, according to the U.N. health agency's report on the pandemic issued late Tuesday.
Confirmed cases of the virus had been falling steadily worldwide since January but rose again last week, due to the more infectious omicron variant and the suspension of COVID-19 protocols in numerous countries in Europe, North America and elsewhere.
Health officials have said repeatedly that omicron causes milder disease than previous versions of the coronavirus and that vaccination, including a booster, appears highly protective.
The Western Pacific remained the only region in the world where coronavirus cases are rising, reporting a 21 per cent jump last week, continuing weeks of increase. According to figures from last week, the number of new infections in Europe remained stable and fell everywhere else.
WHO cautioned that with many countries dropping widespread testing programs, many infections are likely being missed and new case numbers should be interpreted cautiously.
In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases inched upward across Europe, prompted by the more infectious BA.2 subvariant of omicron and the relaxation of nearly all public health measures.
WHO Europe chief Dr. Hans Kluge said restrictions in numerous countries across the continent had been lifted “brutally - from too much to too few,” noting that in recent days, cases were rising significantly in the U.K., France, Italy and Germany.
Last week, British health minister Sajid Javid said U.K. residents should brace for a jump in COVID-19 infections but that the country was still “in a very good position” due to its high vaccination levels.
Meanwhile, China's health authorities this week reported the first coronavirus deaths in more than a year as the country battles its worst outbreak since the coronavirus was detected in Wuhan.
The semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong is also entrenched in a deadly wave of COVID-19, and the city of 7 million has recorded more deaths than mainland China during the pandemic.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said this week that authorities would consider relaxing some of its strict pandemic measures as cases begin to fall after weeks of rising cases overloaded hospitals and cemeteries.