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Coronavirus Update: Pandemic is not over yet, says Dr. Fauci, and WHO says omicron accounted for 99.7% of all cases sequenced in latest week

Just hours after saying the U.S. was out of the “pandemic phase,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and a leading infectious disease expert, clarified that he should have said the acute phase was over.

“And I understand how that can lead to some misinterpretation,” Fauci told NPR.

Fauci, who is also head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the original comment during a PBS NewsHour interview that aired Tuesday, when he noted that “we don’t 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now.”

But that does not mean the pandemic is over, he added.

“’Pandemic’ means a widespread, throughout the world infection that spreads rapidly among people,” he said. “So, if you look at the global situation, there’s no doubt this pandemic is still ongoing.” 

“I don’t believe — and I have spoken about this widely — we’re not going to eradicate this virus,” he added. But he hoped that cases could be kept low.

His comments come as COVID cases are rising again in the U.S., driven by the BA.2 variant of omicron, and two new subvariants that appear to be even more infectious. The two, named BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, were highlighted by health officials in New York State recently.

The U.S. is averaging 53,432 cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, up 59% from two weeks ago. Cases are climbing in almost all states and are climbing at the fastest clip in Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The country is averaging 13,708 hospitalizations a day, down 8% from two weeks ago, and still close to the lowest since the first weeks of the pandemic, even though they are rising again on the East Coast. Hospitalizations are up by 60% or more in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.

See now: How Gilead is positioning Veklury against COVID-19 antivirals like Paxlovid

The daily death toll has fallen below 400 to 355 on average. Overall, omicron has proved far milder than earlier variants and while it can break through vaccines and infect even those people who have had booster shots, vaccines still offer strong protection against severe disease and death.

See: CDC study highlights speed with which omicron variant infected Americans, and WHO warns testing is still crucial

Children under five in the U.S. aren’t yet eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine after efforts to get the shots to market have hit setbacks. WSJ’s Peter Loftus explains what we know about the vaccines and when they might become available. Photo composite: Todd Johnson

The World Health Organization said omicron accounted for 99.7% of all cases sequenced globally in the latest week. The latest data suggests a growth advantage for BA.4, BA.5 and BA.2.12 over BA.2, the agency said in its weekly epidemiological update, although it said more data is needed and studies are continuing.

Studies are under way to evaluate the efficacy of several vaccines and boosters shots against omicron and its subvariants, including the Pfizer/BioNTech one, the Sinvoac-CoronaVac one developed by China, the AstraZeneca
AZN,
-0.88%

AZN,
+0.32%

one and the Johnson & Johnson
JNJ,
+0.44%

one said the update.

For now, all vaccines seem to offer protection against severe disease and boosters substantially improve vaccine efficacy.

.However, few studies have followed persons for six months or more after booster vaccination to evaluate longer duration of protection,” said the WHO.

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Taiwan, which had been living mostly free of COVID-19, is now facing its worst outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic with over 11,000 new cases reported Thursday, the Associated Press reported. Cases have been on the upswing since late March. In April, the island’s central authorities announced that they would no longer maintain a “zero-COVID” policy like the Chinese government’s in which they would centrally quarantine positive cases. Instead, the government is asking people to quarantine at home if they test positive, unless they show moderate to severe symptoms.

• Beijing is closing all city schools in a further tightening of COVID-19 restrictions, as China’s capital seeks to prevent a wider outbreak, the AP reported separately. The city of 21 million has already ordered three rounds of mass testing this week, with the third coming Friday. Beijing recorded 50 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total in the current wave to 150. The goal is to avoid the sort of sweeping measures imposed on Shanghai, where the highly transmissible omicron variant has torn through the city of 25 million. Restrictions confining many Shanghai residents to their homes are now in their fourth week and all schools have been online since last month.

Beijing is racing to test more than 20 million people as residents scramble to stock up on food. WSJ’s Jonathan Cheng shows what life is like in the capital and unpacks the likely ripple effects if officials can’t control the fast-spreading virus. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

• Moderna Inc.
MRNA,
-1.91%

filed for authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine in children between the ages of 6 months and 6 years old. The submission is set to be completed next week, and is broken out into two categories: 6-month-olds to 2-year-olds, for which the vaccine has a 51% efficacy rate, and children between the ages of 2 and 6 years old, for which the efficacy rate was 37%. The series has two shots. Moderna said these efficacy rates are similar to vaccine efficacy in adults against the omicron variant. The news comes a day after Pfizer
PFE,
+0.10%

and BioNTech
BNTX,
-2.52%

said they expect data for their COVID vaccine in young children in the second quarter.

• Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings
LH,
-6.92%

said a revenue miss in the first quarter was due to a decrease in COVID-19 PCR and antibody testing. The company posted net income of $491.6 million, or $5.23 per share, in the first quarter of 2022, down from $769.7 million, or $7.82 per share, in the same quarter a year ago. Adjusted earnings per share were $6.11 against a FactSet consensus of $5.98. Lab Corp. brought in $3.9 billion in revenue for the quarter, down from $4.1 billion in the same three months of last year. The consensus was for $4.0 billion.

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 511.8 million on Thursday, while the death toll rose above 6.22 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 81.2 million cases and 992,740 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 219.5 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 66.1% of the total population. But just 100.3 million are boosted, equal to 45.7% of the vaccinated population.

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