A rise in COVID-19 cases in South Africa fueled by two new omicron subvariants has raised concerns that they are even more transmissible than the BA.2 strain that has dominated in the United States since early April.
The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have led to a tripling of cases in South Africa over the past week and an increase in hospitalizations, The New York Times reported.
The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have also been detected in the United States, according to Outbreak.info, which aggregates pandemic data on a shared platform, although the numbers so far are very low. . As of April 29, only 10 BA.4 cases had been detected in the United States compared to 315 in South Africa. There were only 5 cases of BA.5, compared to 104 in South Africa.
Data from South Africa show that BA.4 and BA.5 escape the protection created by infection with the original omicron, called BA.1, resulting in symptomatic infections, The Times reported. But at this time, it’s unclear whether the two new subvariants create more severe disease.
The news comes as COVID cases continue to rise in the United States after their sharp decline at the start of the year, driven by BA.2 and two other subvariants that appear to be even more contagious. The two, named BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, were recently highlighted by New York state health officials.
The United States is seeing an average of 56,700 cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, up 51% from two weeks ago. The country is recording an average of 17,248 hospitalizations per day, up 16% from two weeks ago, but still close to the lowest since the first weeks of the pandemic. The daily death toll has fallen below 400 to 320 on average.
“We are in a difficult global time where the past cannot truly predict the future,” Dr. Kavita Patel, a primary care physician who led the Obama administration’s response to the swine flu virus, told the newspaper. H1N1.
In other medical news, Pfizer PFE,
said its COVID-19 pill Paxlovid had failed to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to household contacts. The drugmaker had been testing Paxlovid as a post-exposure prophylactic in a phase 2/3 clinical trial. The drug reduced the chances of spreading a confirmed, symptomatic COVID-19 infection; however, the results were not statistically significant.
Coronavirus update: MarketWatch’s Daily Roundup organizes and reports all the latest developments each day of the week since the start of the coronavirus pandemic
Other COVID-19 news you should know:
• Restaurants in Beijing have been ordered to close dine-in services over the May holiday as the Chinese capital grapples with an outbreak of COVID-19, The Associated Press reported. Restaurants have been ordered to only provide take-out services from Sunday to Wednesday, during China’s Labor Day holiday. Beijing began mass testing millions earlier this week as it scrambled to stamp out a growing COVID-19 outbreak. Beijing is trying to prevent a massive outbreak that could trigger a citywide lockdown like the one that paralyzed Shanghai for more than three weeks. Millions of residents have been confined there and food has sometimes run out, drawing criticism despite government efforts to censor it.
• COVID lockdowns have already hampered manufacturing activity in China, with the monthly Purchasing Managers’ Index falling to its lowest level in six months in April, according to a separate AP report. The index, released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, fell to 47.4 in April from 49.5 in March on a 100-point scale. Numbers less than 50 indicate outsourcing of activities. The trend is also evident in business announcements; NIO Inc. and Li Auto Inc. reported sharp declines in deliveries in April, both citing supply chain issues stemming from a new wave of COVID-19 outbreaks.
See now: US factories expand in April at slowest pace in 18 months, ISM says
• Italy and Greece eased some COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday ahead of Europe’s peak summer tourist season, a sign that life is increasingly returning to normal, the AP reported. Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority has announced that it is lifting all COVID-19 rules for international and domestic flights, except for the wearing of face masks during flights and at airports. Previously, air travelers had to present proof of vaccination, a negative test or a recent recovery from the disease. Under a decree passed by the Italian Ministry of Health, the country abolished the health pass that was required to enter restaurants, cinemas, gymnasiums and other places. The green pass, which showed proof of vaccination, recovery from the virus or a recent negative test, is still required to enter hospitals and nursing homes.
• New Zealand welcomed tourists from the United States, Canada, Britain, Japan and more than 50 other countries for the first time in more than two years on Monday after dropping most of its border restrictions remaining pandemics. The country has long been renowned for its breathtaking scenery and adventure tourism offerings such as bungee jumping and skiing. Before the spread of COVID-19, more than 3 million tourists visited each year, accounting for 20% of New Zealand’s overseas revenue and more than 5% of the overall economy.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 513.9 million on Friday, while the death toll topped 6.23 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The United States leads the world with 81.4 million cases and 993,735 deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker shows that 219.7 million people living in the United States are fully vaccinated, or 66.2% of the total population. But only 100.7 million are boosted, or 45.8% of the vaccinated population.