Durban — Data indicates that increasing Covid-19 transmission during December was fuelled by gatherings over the festive season and the JN.1 variant is the most commonly reported variant globally.
This was according to World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in opening remarks during a media briefing on Wednesday.
Ghebreyesus said that although Covid-19 is no longer a global health emergency, the virus is still circulating, changing, and killing.
“Data from various sources indicate increasing transmission during December, fuelled by gatherings over the holiday period, and by the JN.1 variant, which is now the most commonly reported variant globally,” Ghebreyesus said.
“Almost 10 000 deaths from Covid-19 were reported to WHO in December, and there was a 42% increase in hospitalisations and a 62% increase in ICU admissions, compared with November.”
Ghebreyesus said that these trends are based on data from less than 50 countries, mostly in Europe and the Americas.
He also said that it is certain that there are also increases in other countries that are not being reported.
“Just as governments and individuals take precautions against other diseases, we must all continue to take precautions against Covid-19,” Ghebreyesus advised.
He said that although 10 000 deaths a month is far less than at the peak of the pandemic, this level of preventable death is not acceptable.
“We continue to call on governments to maintain surveillance and sequencing and to ensure access to affordable and reliable tests, treatments and vaccines for their populations,” Ghebreyesus said.
“We continue to call on individuals to be vaccinated, to test, to wear masks where needed and to ensure crowded indoor spaces are well ventilated.”
Ghebreyesus added that although Covid-19 was no longer a global health emergency, there were many other emergencies to which WHO is responding, including in Gaza, Ukraine, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Infectious disease epidemiologist Dr Maria van Kerkhove said they were seeing an increase in respiratory infections across the globe due to influenza, Covid-19, adenovirus, rhinovirus and bacteria like mycoplasma pneumonia, which are causing pneumonia, particularly among children. There’s also RSV-causing (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) disease in children.
“This year, particularly in the northern hemisphere, we are seeing co-circulation of many different types of pathogens and this is causing a significant increase in hospitalisations, not just for Covid for flu, but from these other pathogens as well,” Van Kerkhove said.
She said that given the lifting of public health and social measures, with the world opened up, these viruses and bacteria pass efficiently between people through the air and take advantage. Winter months and holiday gatherings, facilitate this.
“So with influenza there is vaccination, there are treatments, early diagnosis and clinical care is critical, same thing for Covid but we need people to test, to get treated, to enter into the clinical pathways to make sure they have access to antivirals to prevent severe disease. And most notably, to get vaccinated, especially if you’re in a high-risk group,” Van Kerkhove said.
She said a lot of the concerns they have now are respiratory diseases. The data they have for flu, Covid and RSV goes up to the end of 2023.
“For Covid in particular we see increases in the southern hemisphere as well,” Van Kerkhove said.
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