15M New COVID Cases Reported Globally Last Week, Africa Only Region Reporting Drop: WHO

The World Health Organization's (WHO) latest report shows a 55 percent increase in new coronavirus cases last week, with only Africa seeing a drop. The number of deaths, meanwhile, stayed stable.

The U.N. health agency reported that almost every world region is seeing a spike in cases, with roughly 15 million new cases globally last week. But in Africa, officials reported an 11 percent decrease.

It was the first time cases fell in that region. In late November, southern Africa saw a steep rise in coronavirus infections when the Omicron variant was first detected. Experts now believe that wave has ended in the region.

The WHO said the highly contagious Omicron variant is now the leading strain, surpassing the Delta variant, and is causing the recent surges and record-breaking numbers. Despite reports that this variant causes less-severe cases of COVID-19, the WHO reported over 43,000 deaths last week. Officials also say Omicron can "evade immunity" and has a shorter doubling time.

Last week, the WHO recorded a new pandemic high of 9.5 million new infections, which it called a "tsunami."

Countries are implementing new restrictions to help curve the spread of Omicron. Meanwhile, hospitals are facing staff shortages and a growing demand for beds.

Scientists in Britain and the U.S. are saying there are early signs the Omicron wave may have peaked, but experts are unsure what the pandemic's next phase will bring.

WHO Reports Record Cases
The number of new coronavirus infections jumped by about 55 percent globally, according to the World Health Organization's latest pandemic report. Above, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference on December 20, 2021, in Geneva. FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty Images

WHO also noted that North, South and Central America reported the highest-ever number of coronavirus cases this week, with a 78 percent spike, mainly driven by the U.S.

The number of new cases in Europe rose by 31 percent, but the WHO reports indicated there was a 10 percent drop in deaths.

This past week, Southeast Asia saw the biggest jump in virus infections, where cases increased by more than 400 percent, with the most significant numbers reported in India, Timor-Leste, Thailand and Bangladesh. The number of deaths in the region fell by 6 percent.

The Omicron variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the Delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.