Is COVID-19 Pandemic on the Rise?
As pandemic measures are increasingly lifted, vaccination is slowing down, and vacation season is approaching, many countries around the world are experiencing significant upsurges in new COVID-19 cases. The rapid rise in COVID-19 infections raised concern among health experts and authorities. Factors underlying these new waves of infection, including the circulation of the latest sub lineages of the Omicron variant, is currently of interest. Read along to learn more about current statistics on the pandemic, the emerging waves of infection, the impact of recent lineages, and potential strategies for protection.
What are the latest statistics on the COVID-19 pandemic around the world?
According to Our World in Data, there are more than 530 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 6 million deaths across almost 200 countries. The highest number of confirmed cases were reported from the US, Brazil, and India followed by France, Germany, and the UK. The highest figures overall were recorded in the US with cases exceeding 83 million with more than a million deaths.
Although some Latin American countries such as Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina have recently experienced mild rise in COVID-19 cases, the overall level of infection in the region remains relatively low. In Latin America, Brazil suffered the second-highest official death toll with more than 31 million cases and 666,000 deaths. The highest death toll by population size was recorded in Peru with more than 655 deaths per every 100,000 people. Rates of infection, hospitalization, and death are currently remained low in the Middle East. The highest figures in the region were recorded in Iran, with more than 7 million cases and 140.000 deaths.
While Australia and New Zealand has experienced an upsurge in COVID-19 cases earlier this year, rates of infection, hospitalization, and death have lowered, and New Zealand has opened its borders to international travelers following a two-year restriction. Similarly, in across many countries around Europe the infection, hospitalization, and death rates have been largely under control despite some spikes in cases. However, as will be explained shortly, several countries in Europe have recently been experiencing significant upsurges in new COVID-19 infections which has widely raised concerns regarding the risk of serious outbreaks.
The true toll of the pandemic in Africa remains unknown due to low testing rates. However, more than 11 million cases with 250.000 deaths have been officially reported from the African continent. The highest figures were recorded in South Africa which has reported more than 3.9 million confirmed cases with more than 100,000 deaths. Moreover, South Africa has suffered a recent wave of infection with the emergence of the new Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. Another significant concern is the strikingly low levels of vaccination in Africa. Indeed, data suggests that while more than 63% of population have been fully vaccinated on every continent with the exception of Africa, where the rate remains only around 18%.
What is the impact of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 lineages to the upsurge of cases?
The most recent lineages of the Omicron variant, BA.4 and BA.5 were discovered in South Africa in April 2022, where their circulation caused a mild upsurge of infections. Outside of South Africa, the impact of these new lineages has been more severe, and many experts suggests that the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages are responsible for the current increase in new cases experienced in various countries such as Portugal, the UK, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, and Singapore. According to Our World in Data, as of June 20, Portugal has been the worst-hit country by this new wave of infections, with its seven-day infection rate of 2,043 per million and upsurge in excess deaths. In France, the seven-day infection rate has jumped from 224 to 920 between June 13 and June 20, combined with an 27% increase in hospital admissions and 17% increase in ICU admissions. In Greece, the same figure has reached 681 from 377, and in Italy to 549 from 354, and in Netherlands to 204 from 117, all in just a week. Likewise, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported on June 24 that new COVID-19 infections in the UK have increased by 23% in a week, and the Singaporean Ministry of Health has reported that Singapore was experiencing a 23% increase in new cases linked to the circulation of the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages.
Why are Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 cases rising?
Early data and expert opinion highlight that the current upsurge in new COVID-19 cases likely derives primarily from the enhanced ability of the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants to evade immunity. Thus, the BA.4 and BA.5 variants can infect people with immunity against prior forms of Omicron and other variants, escalating the rate of reinfection. Moreover, research demonstrates that the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants may be around 10% to 15% more infectious and spread faster than the other circulating variants. The good news is, the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages of the Omicron variant seem to be cause milder disease, leading to fewer deaths and hospitalizations.
What can be done to fight new waves of infection?
Our current vaccines remain highly effective against infections with both the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron. Experts primarily point out to the importance of the preservation of stable immunity through booster shots. Moreover, it is suggested that a return to certain measures such as basic hygiene rules, the use of masks in indoor spaces, application of capacity limitations may be recommended in the future.
Can COVID-19 rapid antigen test kits detect Covid-19 BA.4 and BA.5 variants?
COVID-19 rapid antigen test kits can be used to screen large populations in areas of significant viral transmission where disease prevalence is expected to be high. In such a setting, the sensitivity and specificity of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests are sufficient to enable effective infection control by allowing for rapid screening of large populations and immediate isolation of positive cases. COVID-19 rapid antigen tests are also beneficial for contact tracing and isolation since they allow for quick screening and separation of contacts and other people at risk. Numerous governments throughout the world have taken efforts to make rapid antigen test kits available for general use due to its convenience for public health where such as entering an event, meeting, before and after a travelling.
In a reactive test strip, antigens are proteins or protein fragments that serve as a target for a specific antibody. We use antigens such as spike proteins and nucleocapsid proteins. The spike protein region contains the majority of the mutations in the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants. For rapid antigen testing using SARS-CoV-2 spike protein as a target, this can limit sensitivity or result in non-functional assays. In terms of sensitivity and functionality, those that use nucleocapsid protein as a target, such as our RapidForTM SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Antigen Test Kit, are less likely to be altered by mutations.