9.5M COVID Cases Reported Globally Over Last Week, but Deaths Are Down: WHO

A record 9.5 million COVID-19 cases were recorded around the globe last week, but deaths decreased by more than 3,500 compared to the week before, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.

The WHO recorded 9,520,488 cases last week and 41,178 deaths. The week prior, it reported 44,680 deaths.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the United Nations health agency is certain that the weekly infection count—up 71 percent from the week before—was still an underestimate because of the backlogs and delays in virus testing over the holidays.

Cases rose quicker in some areas of the world compared to others over the previous week. Infections doubled in the Americas region, but rose only 7 percent in Africa, the WHO said.

The WHO chief also warned that even though the highly contagious Omicron variant appears to affect people less severely than the Delta variant, people should not write it off as a mild strain.

"Just like previous variants, Omicron is hospitalizing people, and it's killing people," he said.

"In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick that it is overwhelming health systems around the world."

Record Weekly COVID Count
A record 9.5 million COVID-19 cases were recorded around the globe last week, but deaths decreased by more than 3,500 compared to the week before, the World Health Organization said Thursday. A sign for the World Health Organization (WHO) is seen at the entrance of their headquarters in Geneva on May 8, 2021. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

WHO officials have long cited a lag between case counts and deaths, with changes in the death counts often trailing about two weeks behind the evolution of case counts. But they have also noted that for several reasons—including rising vaccination rates in some places, and signs that Omicron affects the nose and throat more than the lungs—Omicron has not appeared as deadly as the Delta variant that preceded it.

Any rise in hospitalizations or deaths in the wake of the latest surge in cases isn't likely to show up for about two weeks.

The WHO emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, said speculation that Omicron might be the last variant of the outbreak was "wishful thinking" and cautioned: "There still is a lot of energy in this virus."

Added Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's technical lead on COVID-19: "I think it's very unlikely that Omicron will be the last variant that you will hear us discussing."

WHO officials called on the public to step up measures to fight the pandemic like getting vaccinated, ventilating rooms, maintaining proper physical distancing and wearing masks — but properly.

"I'm struck by how people actually are wearing masks," Van Kerkhove said.

"Wearing a mask below your chin is useless. And it gives you a false sense of security that you have something on that is protecting you. It will not ... Basically, we are asking everyone to play a part in this."

Separately, Ryan said the WHO's work with the International Olympic Committee and China — which is set to host the 2022 Winter Games — led him to be "confident" that the measures that games organizers have put in place were "very strict and very strong."

"We don't at this point see any increased risk of disease transmission in that context," Ryan said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

WHO COVID Report
The WHO recorded 9,520,488 cases last week and 41,178 deaths. World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gives a press conference on December 20, 2021 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images