The World Health Organization said COVID cases were lower overall in the week through June 19 but moved higher in Southeast Asia, the eastern Mediterranean and European regions as the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants continued to take hold.
Those two subvariants have been detected in 62 and 58 countries, respectively, while the earlier BA.2.12.1 subvariant has been detected in 69 countries but is decreasing in prevalence, the agency said in its weekly epidemiological update.
“BA.4 and BA.5 have a constellation of genetic mutations that differ from BA.2, including a shared mutation at S:L452 which has been associated with higher transmissibility,” said the update.
And while that has lead to a surge in hospitalizations and intensive-care admissions in some countries, there is still no evidence to suggest the two are more lethal than other variants, it said.
Overall, the WHO counted more than 3.3 million cases in the week, down 4% from the previous week. The number of fatalities also declined by 16% to more than 7,500.
Media reports are highlighting the chaos at many airports in Europe, where labor shortages are meeting increased demand for travel as pandemic restrictions are lifted.
Airlines and airports that slashed jobs during the depths of the COVID-19 crisis are struggling to keep up, the Associated Press reported, creating long security lines at airports such as Schiphol in the Netherlands, where a passenger reported being confronted by a line that snaked out of the terminal and into a big tent along a road before doubling back inside the main building.
Adding to the frustration on the ground, many airlines are canceling flights because of the security-staff issues, and airlines are warning travelers to get their early in case of such delays.
London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports are asking airlines to cap flight numbers. Discount carrier easyJet is scrapping thousands of summer flights to avoid last-minute cancellations and in response to flight caps at Gatwick and Schiphol. North American airlines wrote to Ireland’s transport chief demanding urgent action to tackle “significant delays” at Dublin’s airport.
In the U.S., there have been 7,655 delayed flights on Thursday, according to Flightaware.com. Some 2,153 flights have been canceled, the tracker shows, while its “Misery Map” shows most of those are happening in Boston and New York.
U.S. cases are averaging 97,069 a day, down 13% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker. The country is averaging 30,216 hospitalizations a day, up 3% from two weeks ago. The daily death toll stands at 298 on average, down 13% from two weeks ago.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• New York City Mayor Eric Adams has not enforced the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for employees at private businesses, and it has no plans to begin inspecting businesses or begin fining those that are not in compliance, the New York Times reported. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a vaccine mandate for employees at private businesses in December, the most far-reaching local measure in the United States at the time.
• Tennessee House leaders on Wednesday urged fellow Republican Gov. Bill Lee to delay the state’s health department from distributing and promoting the COVID-19 vaccines to infants, toddlers and preschoolers, the AP reported. The lawmakers added that the “COVID-19 emergency has long [since] passed in Tennessee,” though that interpretation of facts is disputed by public health experts. The letter came just days after Florida raised eyebrows as the only state in the country not to preorder vaccine doses for its toddlers. Florida has since bent to pressure from medial professionals and the federal government.
• Enanta Pharmaceuticals ENTA, +7.38% filed a lawsuit against Pfizer PFE, +1.91% over Paxlovid, alleging that the COVID-19 antiviral expected to bring in $22 billion in sales this year is based on a patent first filed by Enanta scientists. The suit, which was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, alleges that Enanta filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office “describing coronavirus protease inhibitors invented by Enanta scientists” in July 2020. Pfizer’s patent for Paxlovid appears to have been filed three months later, and Enanta’s patent “does appear to cover the chemical space Paxlovid is in,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Brian Abrahams told investors this week.
• China is lowering its “great wall” of border controls, with entry rules for foreigners relaxed, international flights increased and quarantine time shortened, the South China Morning Post reported. The eastern province of Zhejiang will now require overseas arrivals to complete seven days of quarantine, followed by another seven in home isolation. Most mainland authorities earlier required inbound travelers to spend at least 14 days in a central quarantine facility, then a week of self-monitoring.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 541.7 million on Wednesday, while the death toll rose above 6.32 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 86.6 million cases and 1,014,835 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 221.9 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 66.8% of the total population. But just 104.7 million have had a first booster, equal to 47.2% of the vaccinated population.
Just 16 million of the people aged 50 and over who are eligible for a second booster have had one, equal to 25.3% of those who had a first booster. The numbers have not changed for several days.