US experts warn of COVID-19 surge from holiday gatherings

People gather for the 155th Brooklyn's Memorial Day Parade in Brooklyn, New York, on May 30, 2022. (YUKI IWAMURA / AFP)

GENEVA / LOS ANGELES / LONDON / RIO DE JANEIRO / BERLIN – As the United States marks the Memorial Day and celebrates the unofficial start of summer, the seven-day average for COVID-19 cases in the country is more than six times what it was a year ago.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported a seven-day average of 119,725 COVID-19 cases as of Saturday

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported a seven-day average of 119,725 COVID-19 cases as of Saturday. That figure held at 17,887 cases on May 28 of last year.

During the three-day holiday weekend, one of the country's traditionally busiest travel periods, more than 39 million Americans are expected to take to the skies and roads, according to estimates by the American Automobile Association.

Experts are predicting a sharp rise in new infections after Memorial Day weekend travels and gatherings.

In recent weeks, confirmed daily cases in the United States have been rising again, powered by a rising tide of Omicron subvariants currently circulating the country.

The United States is averaging about 110,000 new cases each day, according to data of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts believe the real count of cases is much higher as many were underreported due to at-home COVID-19 tests.

While new deaths are relatively low, the total known US deaths from COVID-19 recently surpassed 1 million.

The Omicron subvariants are spreading rapidly across the United States as many of the country's pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

Health officials said the United States is in the midst of yet another COVID-19 wave. They have warned Americans to exercise caution ahead of a possible surge.

"Anyone who has not been boosted for their vaccinations should really start thinking about those boosters right now," said Jill Roberts, associate professor for the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

Health officials have urged people to take precautions to help limit the spread during Memorial Day holidays, wearing masks when inside public spaces and practicing social distancing.

"The one tool that a lot of us have not been doing anymore is really distancing," said Roberts. 

A woman pushes a baby stroller past a mural that reads "Coronavirus kills" in Portugese and features outdated statistics on COVID-19 deaths. In the Alemao Complex favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 21, 2020. (SILVIA IZQUIERDO / AP)

Brazil

Brazil registered 63 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the country's pandemic death toll to 666,516, the Health Ministry said Monday.

In the same 24 hours, the country confirmed 24,082 new COVID-19 cases, which raised the total number of cases to 30,977,661.

The data did not include those in the northeast state of Piaui.

Brazil reported the world's second-highest COVID-19 death toll, only after the United States, and the third-largest caseload, after the United States and India.

The current mortality rate of the virus in Brazil is 317.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, while the incidence rate has risen to 14,741 per 100,000 people. 

This undated photo shows the logo of the World Health Organization. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

WHO

The World Health Organization's governing board agreed on Monday to form a new committee to help speed up its response to health emergencies like COVID-19.

The UN health agency faced criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the pace of its response to early cases that may have delayed detection and helped the virus to spread

The UN health agency faced criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the pace of its response to early cases that may have delayed detection and helped the virus to spread. Some disease experts say that governments and the WHO must avoid repeating such early missteps with other outbreaks like monkeypox. 

The resolution, passed unanimously at the 34-member Executive Board's annual meeting, will form a new 'Standing Committee on Health Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response' to help address some of the perceived shortcomings.

Formal WHO meetings are sometimes spaced months apart and, under the new initiative, the new body would meet immediately after the Director-General declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) – a decision that triggers calls for extra funding, public health measures and a series of recommendations aimed at controlling disease spread.

"This was probably one of the weakest points during the last pandemic that member states or governing bodies didn't have the opportunity to have immediate consultations after this PHEIC of the last pandemic was declared," Austria's Clemens Martin Auer, who proposed the resolution, told the Executive Board.

He added that the new committee would also conduct oversight of the WHO's health emergencies programme in ordinary times to ensure it is fit to respond.

"I think the standing committee will be an indispensable part of the new global architecture on health emergency," he added. The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Japan were among the co-sponsors of the initiative.

Switzerland

Swiss drugs regulator Swissmedic said on Tuesday it is reviewing an application from pharmaceutical company Pfizer for a new dosage recommendation for a COVID-19 booster shot for children.

The regulator said it was looking at the data submitted and assessing the benefits and risks of recommending a booster shot administered at least six months after basic immunisation for children between ages 5 and 11.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, outside number 10 Downing Street in London, UK, Oct 22, 2020. (PHOTO/BLOOMBERG)

UK

Conservative lawmaker Jeremy Wright, a former British minister and attorney general, said on Monday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson should resign, joining a growing number of MPs who have withdrawn their support over the "partygate" scandal.

A damning official report published last week detailed a series of illegal parties at Johnson's Downing Street office during COVID-19 lockdowns, prompting a new wave of calls for Johnson to step aside.