A top expert at the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday said that COVID-19 deaths are seeing a “slight increase” for the first time in six weeks, a trend that she called a “worrying sign.”
“I do want to mention that it had been about six weeks where we were seeing decreases in deaths,” Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on COVID-19 at the United Nations health agency, told reporters. “And in the last week, we’ve started to see a slight increase in deaths across the world, and this is to be expected if we are to see increasing cases. But this is also a worrying sign.”
Kerkhove also reported that four WHO regions are seeing an increase in transmission, making the fifth straight week of increasing transmission globally.
In the last week, she said, cases have increased by 8 percent, and 12 percent in Europe.
Kerkhove said that the increase in Europe is being driven by “several countries across the European region,” in addition to the coronavirus variant that was first discovered in the United Kingdom that is now circulating in several countries in the eastern part of Europe.
Southeast Asia has seen a 49 percent week-to-week rise in cases, Kerkhove noted. She also said the WHO’s Western Pacific region recorded a 29 percent increase, which was largely driven by an increase in cases in the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.
Kerkhove said there are a “combination of factors that are associated with increases in transmission,” including pressure to open countries, individuals and communities failing to comply with “proven control measures,” and the spread of “variants of concern,” especially the U.K. variant.
Kerkhove also said the “unequal” and “inequitable” vaccine distribution has contributed to this increase in transmission, because inoculations are “not yet reaching those who are most at risk.”
The Americas and Africa, Kerkhove noted, reported a slight decline in cases over the past week.
Kerkhove, however, noted that there is still “far more that we can do” to carry out preventative measures and keep individuals safe.
“There’s still far more that we can do at an individual level, at community level measure, as leaders in government, to support people to carry out measures that keep each of us safe,” she said.
According to the WHO, as of March 22 there have been more than 122.9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, and more than 2.7 million deaths.
As of March 20, more than 397.9 million vaccines have been administered globally, the WHO reported.