Global and US health chiefs have urged calm over rising Covid cases and new variants, pointing out that virtually everyone now has immunity against the virus.
On Thursday, Dr Marion Koopmans — a virologist who advises the World Health Organization — said the world was now in a ‘different phase’ of the pandemic due to higher levels of immunity from vaccination and previous infection.
And in a press call yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added that America was it is ‘strongest point yet’ against the virus because of this wall of immunity.
There have been heightened concerns in recent weeks after the discovery of the new BA.2.86 variant , which experts previous strains.
America has been gripped by concern over Covid in recent weeks amid signs of rising cases and the emergence of a new Covid variant. The above shows daily new Covid cases worldwide over the past year revealing they have now dropped to record low levels. This figure is unreliable because so few people are now testing themselves for Covid, but deaths are also at record lows
Covid deaths are also at much lower levels than earlier in the pandemic, data from Oxford University’s OurWorldInData shows
Seeking to allay fears, however, Marion van Koopmans, a Dutch virologist who advises the WHO, pointed out the world was now in a ‘different phase’ of the pandemic, saying virtually everyone had protection. Dr Maria van kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead, also weighed in saying that BA.2.86 cases were still in ‘low numbers’
However, the WHO and CDC experts do not expect this variant to unleash another wave of hospital admissions.
Their position hasn’t stopped some corners of the US from panicking, however.
Yesterday Rutgers University in New Jersey became the latest to bring back face masks for staff and students on its campuses, following a similar announcement by Morris Brown College in Atlanta earlier in the week.
Hospitals in California and New York and a Hollywood studio have also brought back the provisions.
But seeking to calm the situation, a CDC spokesman said yesterday: ‘We are in our strongest position yet to be able to fight Covid as well as the other viruses that are responsible for the majority of fall and winter hospitalizations.’
Surveillance shows that 97 percent of over-16s now have some level of immunity from Covid, either from vaccinations or previous infections. Levels are believed to be at a similar level in younger age groups.
US hospitalizations are rising — up 21 percent in a week to 12,600 in the seven-day period to August 12 — although this is an uptick from historic lows and still below levels this time last year.
Deaths remain static, with 497 recorded in the week to July 29 — the latest available — barely a shift from 491 in the previous week.
Dr Koopmans said yesterday: ‘We are in a very different phase [of the pandemic] than if this popped up in the first year.’
Globally, Covid cases remain low at an average of 45,000 infections per day on August 18, according to Oxford University’s OurWorldInData — or among the lowest level since the early days of the pandemic.
This figure is likely a vast underestimate because so few people are now testing themselves for Covid, but in another promising sign deaths are also at record lows.
US hospitalizations are up by 21 percent in a week, with 12,600 recorded over the week ending August 12 — the latest available.
Deaths remain static, however, with 497 recorded in the week to July 29, the latest available, compared to 491 in the previous seven-day spell
To further shore up immunity levels, the CDC is also planning to recommend boosters for Americans to be rolled out in mid-September.
New jabs in development by Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax will be targeted against the currently dominant XBB variants, but scientists say they should still provide a level of protection against other, newer strains.
Officials expect them to provide ‘robust’ protection against EG.5 — another fast-growing variant in the US — although it is too early to know their effectiveness against BA.2.86.
A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official added that the updated shots demonstrated a ‘clear reduction in hospitalization and death’.
Plans are being drawn up to offer them to all Americans, White House sources say, although questions remain over whether under-65s really need them.
There are also concerns over BA.2.86 which scientists say could spark another wave of Covid infections.
But to calm fears Dr Marion Koopmans, a virologist who advises the WHO, said: ‘We are in a very different phase [of the pandemic] than if this popped up in the first year.’
At least nine cases of BA.2.86 have now been detected across six countries — Denmark, Israel, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
There have been two cases detected in the US to date, one in an individual with mild illness in Michigan and another in an asymptomatic patient in Virginia who had recently returned from Japan. The variant has also been picked up in wastewater in Ohio.
There are concerns at present that the strain could spark a new wave of infections, with the CDC warning yesterday that the variant ‘can infect vaccinated people better than other strains’.
But there is no sign yet that the strain can cause more severe disease or death than previous variants. The virus tends to involve to be more infectious but less deadly.
Dr Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid, pointed out there were still a ‘low number’ of cases of this variant.
But she also urged Governments not to ‘drop the ball’ and to keep an eye on it.
The expert suggested the current number of cases spotted was just the tip of the iceberg, saying that about 20,000 sequences were uploaded over the past week. She said that when Omicron was first detected, that number stood at more than 200,000.