Omicron BA.5 COVID subvariant spreading at ‘very intense level,’ WHO warns

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 remains global health emergency, omicron subvariants driving transmission: WHO'
COVID-19 remains global health emergency, omicron subvariants driving transmission: WHO
WATCH: World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday that the COVID-19 pandemic remains a global health emergency, adding that the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are driving “waves of cases, hospitalizations and deaths around the world.” – Jul 12, 2022

COVID-19 cases are rising across the world as the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant of Omicron spreads at a “very intense level,” the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

At a news conference on Tuesday, the WHO chief said subvariants of Omicron, like BA.4 and BA.5, continue to drive waves of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths around the world.

“The virus is running freely and countries are not effectively managing the disease burden,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom told a virtual press conference from Geneva, Switzerland.

“New waves of the virus demonstrate again that COVID-19 is nowhere near over,” he added.

Click to play video: 'Omicron subvariants fuel fears about COVID-19 reinfections'
Omicron subvariants fuel fears about COVID-19 reinfections

The spread of BA.5, which is now the dominant version of the virus globally, is of concern because it has a growth advantage over other sublineages of Omicron, said WHO COVID-19 technical lead Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove.

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“The virus is spreading at a very intense level at a global level and our ability to detect cases has reduced since the surveillance strategies have changed,” she told reporters.

Click to play video: 'Uptick in Omicron cases this summer likely means more hospitalizations'
Uptick in Omicron cases this summer likely means more hospitalizations

The WHO has seen a substantial increase in reports of BA.5 cases over the last four weeks alone, Van Kerkhove said, adding that the trend is expected to continue around the world.

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The agency is also aware of reports of reinfection, but does not have specifics of sublineages.

WHO began tracking BA.4 and BA.5, in mid-April. They were first detected in Jan. 2022 and are in addition to previously discovered subvariants BA.1 and BA.2 of Omicron.

Meanwhile, the international Emergency Committee on COVID-19 met on Friday and concluded that COVID-19 remains a public health emergency of international concern.

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In a statement on Tuesday, the committee, made up of independent experts, said that rising cases, ongoing viral evolution and pressure on health services in a number of countries meant that the situation was still an emergency.

COVID-19 cases reported to WHO had risen by 30 per cent in the last two weeks, although increased population immunity, largely from vaccines, had seen a “decoupling” of cases from hospitalizations and deaths, the committee’s statement said.

Canada’s Public Health Agency projects more cases in the coming months due to increases in the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-lineages of Omicron, according to its June 30 statement.

Some sobering figures from Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force released last week showed how quickly the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and its subvariants spread across the country at the end of 2021 and the first few months of this year.

An analysis of data from blood testing suggested that 17 million Canadians were infected in only five months, between December 2021 and May 2022.

— with files from Global News’ Tim Sargent and Reuters 

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