An increase 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 been dominant in the U.S. since early April.
Subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 have led to a tripling of cases in South Africa over the past week and an increase in hospitalizations, the New York Times reported.
Sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 have also been detected in the US, according to Outbreak.info, which adds data on the pandemic on a shared platform, although at the moment the numbers are very low. As of April 29, only 10 cases of BA.4 had been detected in the US, compared to 315 in South Africa. There were only 5 cases of BA.5 in the US, compared to 104 in South Africa.
Data from South Africa show that BA.4 and BA.5 evade the protection created by an infection with the original omicron, called BA.1, leading to symptomatic infections, the Times reported. But it is unclear at this time whether the two new subvariants are causing more serious illness.
The news comes as COVID cases continue to rise in the US after a sharp drop earlier this year, driven by BA.2 and two other subvariants that appear to be even more infectious. Both, called BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, were recently highlighted by New York State health officials.
The United States has an average of 56,700 cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, 51 percent more than two weeks ago. The country has an average of 17,248 hospitalizations a day, 16% more than two weeks ago, but still close to the lowest level since the first weeks of the pandemic. The average daily death toll has dropped below 400 to 320.
“We’re in an awkward time where the past can’t really predict the future,” Dr. Kavita Patel, a primary care physician who led the Obama administration’s response to the H1N1 swine flu, told the newspaper.
New York City has raised its COVID alert level to medium from below, according to the city’s health department website, indicating that cases are rising at an undesirable rate.
The city is currently seeing about 2,500 new cases a day, up from 600 in early March. The number may be even higher, as many people are now testing at home and not all data is being collected.
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. The Department of Health recommends that New Yorkers keep vaccines and reinforcements, wear a face mask inside, and get tested if they are not well.
“If New York’s alert level rises to High, the City will consider requiring face masks in all indoor public settings,” the health department said.
In other medical news, Pfizer PFE,
said his COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid, did not reduce the risk of spreading the virus to home contacts. The drug manufacturer had been testing Paxlovid as a post-exposure prophylactic in the phase 2/3 clinical trial. The drug reduced the risk of spreading a confirmed and symptomatic COVID-19 infection. The results were not statistically significant.
News about coronavirus: MarketWatch’s daily summary has been healing and reporting on all the latest developments every business day since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Other news about COVID-19 you should know:
• Beijing restaurants have been ordered to shut down dinner services during the May holidays as the Chinese capital struggles with a COVID-19 outbreak, the Associated Press reported. Restaurants have only been ordered to offer takeaway services from Sunday to Wednesday, during China Labor Day holidays. Beijing began mass testing millions of residents earlier this week as it struggled to eliminate a COVID-19 outbreak. Beijing is trying to prevent a massive outbreak that could trigger a city-wide blockade like the one that has paralyzed Shanghai for more than three weeks. Millions of residents have been shut down and food has been cut short at times, prompting criticism despite government efforts to censor it.
• COVID blockades have already affected manufacturing activity in China, with the monthly purchasing managers’ index falling to a six-month low in April, according to a separate PA report. The index, released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, fell to 47.4 in April, down from 49.5 in March on a 100-point scale. Numbers below 50 show hiring activities. The trend is also manifesting itself in corporate ads; NIO Inc. and Li Auto Inc. they reported sharp drops in April deliveries, both citing supply chain challenges stemming from a new wave of COVID-19 outbreaks.
See now: U.S. factories are growing at the slowest pace in April in 18 months, according to ISM
• Italy and Greece relaxed some restrictions on COVID-19 on Sunday before the peak tourist season in Europe, a sign that life was returning to normal, the AP reported. The Greek Civil Aviation Authority announced that it was raising all COVID-19 standards for international and domestic flights, except for the use of face masks during flights and at airports. Previously, air travelers had to show a vaccination test, a negative test, or a recent recovery from the disease. Under a decree approved by the Italian Ministry of Health, the country eliminated the health pass that had been required to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and other premises. The green pass, which showed evidence of vaccination, virus recovery or a recent negative test, is still required to access hospitals and nursing homes.
• New Zealand on Monday welcomed tourists from the United States, Canada, Britain, Japan and more than 50 other countries for the first time in more than two years after abandoning most of the remaining pandemic border restrictions. The country has long been known for its stunning scenery and adventure tourism offerings such as bungee jumping and skiing. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, more than 3 million tourists visited each year, representing 20% of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5% of the global economy.
That’s what the numbers say
The overall number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 exceeded 513.9 million on Friday, while the number of deaths exceeded 6.23 million, according to data added by Johns Hopkins University.
The United States leads the world with 81.4 million cases and 993,735 fatalities.
Monitoring by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 219.7 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equivalent to 66.2% of the total population. But only 100.7 million are promoted, equivalent to 45.8% of the vaccinated population.