In a statement the World Health Organization said, a global rise in COVID-19 cases could herald a much bigger problem following countries reporting a drop in testing rates.
The WHO has warned countries to remain vigilant against the virus.
COVID-19 cases are again starting to rise globally following more than a month of decline. Multiple provinces in China continue to battle COVID-19 outbreaks.
“A combination of factors was causing the increases, including the highly transmissible Omicron variant and its cousin the BA.2 sub-variant, and the lifting of public health and social measures,” said the WHO. “These increase are occurring despite reductions in testing in some countries, which means the cases we’re seeing are just the tip of the iceberg”.
Low vaccination rates in some countries, partly driven by a “huge amount of misinformation” also explained a rise in COVID-19 cases, said WHO officials.
New infections jumped by 8% globally compared to the previous week, with 11 million new cases and just over 43,000 new deaths reported from March 7-13. It is the first rise since the end of January. The biggest jump was in the WHO’s Western Pacific region, which includes South Korea and China, where cases rose by 25% and deaths by 27%.
Cases in Africa rose by 12% while deaths rose by 14%. Cases in Europe jumped by 2% while the death rate remained static.
Other regions reported declining cases, including the eastern Mediterranean region, although this area saw a 38% rise in deaths linked to a previous spike in infections.
A number of experts have raised concerns that Europe faces another coronavirus wave, with case rising since the beginning of March in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
The BA.2 variant appears to be the most transmissible so far.
Currently, there are no indications that the BA.2 variant causes more severe disease; there is also no evidence that new variants are driving the rise in cases.
The picture in Europe is also not universal. Denmark, for example, saw a brief peak in cases in the first half of February, driven by BA.2, which quickly subsided.
Experts have warned that the United States could soon potentially see a BA.2 wave similar to the one seen in Europe. The lifting of travel restrictions and potential waning immunity from vaccines are said to be contributing factors.
“I agree with the easing of restrictions, because you can’t think of it as an emergency after two years,” said Antonella Viola, professor of immunology at Italy’s University of Padua. “We just have to avoid thinking that COVID is no longer there. And therefore maintain the strictly necessary measures, which are essentially the continuous monitoring and tracking of cases, and the maintenance of the obligation to wear a mask in closed or very crowded places.”