The number of new Covid-19 cases reported globally “seems to be plateauing” after increasing for nearly two months, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday.
WHO reported more than 4.5 million new cases and 68,000 new deaths worldwide last week – only a slight increase from the more than 4.4 million cases and 66,000 deaths reported the prior week.
The cumulative global caseload now stands at more than 211 million, with the total death toll surpassing 4.4 million, according to WHO’s weekly epidemiological update.
The number of new global cases now appears to be stable, after increasing since mid-June, WHO noted in the report.
The world had earlier seen a plateauing in global cases in May, according to WHO, but outbreaks partly driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant have sent cases surging in many countries in the past two months.
The United States reported the highest number of new cases last week – at 1.02 million, a 15% increase from the previous week – followed by Iran, India, the United Kingdom and Brazil.
The Western Pacific and the Americas saw the largest increase in cases last week – at 20% and 8% respectively. Southeast Asia and Eastern Mediterranean reported a decline in infections, while the other regions saw stagnant cases, according to WHO.
The increase in cases in the Western Pacific region was partially driven by the widening Delta outbreak in Australia. Over the past week, the country’s single-day caseload has repeatedly reached new highs, surpassing its previous record from August last year.
Infections are also climbing in New Zealand, despite the country imposing a nationwide lockdown after confirming just one locally transmitted coronavirus case last week. On Wednesday, it reported 62 new cases, bringing the total caseload of the ongoing outbreak to 210.
In recent days, officials in both Australia and New Zealand have suggested a shift of approach in dealing with Covid-19, from attempting to eradicate the virus to eventually learning to live with it.
In an opinion piece published in Australian media Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted at an end to the country’s zero Covid-19 restrictions, saying the lockdowns “are sadly necessary for now” but “won’t be necessary for too much longer.” He said the Australian government intended to shift its focus from reducing case numbers to examining how many people were getting seriously ill from Covid-19 and requiring hospitalization.
On Monday, New Zealand’s Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told public broadcaster TVNZ the Delta variant has raised questions about the long-term viability of the country’s coronavirus elimination strategy.
“It does mean that all of our existing protections start to look less adequate and less robust. As a result of that, we are looking very closely at what more we can do there. But it does raise some very big questions about the long-term future of our plans,” he said.
In its weekly report, WHO noted that the emergence of Covid-19 variants of concern, including the highly transmittable Delta variant, has highlighted the need to increase vaccination, as well as the importance of maintaining public health and social measures.
It cited a modeling study in England that shows a delay in lifting these safety measures reduced the peak in daily hospitalizations by nearly three-fold.
“Relaxation of public health and social measures should therefore be carefully and cautiously balanced against levels of vaccination coverage, and the circulation of Variants of Concern,” WHO wrote.