(Geneva) The number of new coronavirus cases reported worldwide has continued to decline, except in the Americas and Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its latest assessment of the pandemic.

In its weekly pandemic report released on Wednesday evening, the UN health agency said around 3.5 million new cases and more than 25,000 deaths have been reported worldwide, representing declines respectively. 12% and 25%.

The downward trend in reported infections began in March, although many countries have dismantled their widespread testing and surveillance programs, making it extremely difficult to accurately count cases.

The WHO said there were only two regions where reported COVID-19 infections had increased: the Americas, by 14%, and Africa, by 12%. Cases remained stable in the Western Pacific and fell everywhere else, the agency said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned during a press briefing this week that “the increase in cases in more than 50 countries highlights the volatility of this virus.”

Mr. Tedros said COVID-19 variants, including mutated versions of the highly infectious Omicron variant, are driving a resurgence of COVID-19 in several countries, including South Africa, which was the first to identify Omicron in November.

He added that relatively high rates of population immunity prevent an increase in hospitalizations and deaths, but cautioned that “this is not guaranteed for places with low levels of vaccination.” Only about 16% of people in the poorest countries have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The WHO report noted that some of the biggest jumps in COVID-19 cases have been seen in China, which saw a 145% increase in the past week.

Earlier this week, Chinese authorities increased health restrictions in Shanghai after a brief period of easing. The move frustrated residents who had hoped a month-long lockdown would finally ease after complaints of food shortages and quarantines where some people were forced to hand over their house keys.

Mr. Tedros said on Tuesday that he does not believe China’s “zero-COVID” strategy is sustainable, “given the current behavior of the virus and what we expect for the future.”

On Thursday, North Korea announced its first coronavirus outbreak and imposed a nationwide lockdown. The size of the outbreak was not immediately known, but it could have serious consequences, as the country has a poor health system and its 26 million people are believed to be mostly unvaccinated.



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