March 17, 2022 -- After several weeks of declines in new reported cases of COVID-19, the numbers are increasing globally once again, particularly in parts of Asia and Western Europe, the World Health Organization says.

"These increases are occurring despite reductions in testing in some countries, which means the cases we're seeing are just the tip of the iceberg," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said at a news briefing Wednesday.

As a result, local outbreaks and surges in COVID-19 cases are likely, "particularly in areas where measures to prevent transmission have been lifted," he said.

And death rates remain high in many nations, particularly those with low levels of vaccination.

"Each country is facing a different situation with different challenges, but the pandemic is not over," Tedros said.

"I repeat, the pandemic is not over."

His statement comes amid a reported 46% increase in COVID-19 cases in the U.K. and a jump in case numbers in China. Around the globe, weekly COVID-19 cases are up 8%, the WHO announced, despite a significant reduction in testing for COVID-19.

Given these reports, "we need to be very cautious. We need to watch this very carefully, and we need to focus on getting the most vulnerable appropriately vaccinated," said Michael Ryan, MD, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.

Pockets of Pandemic Possible

"This virus is still moving around quite easily. In the context of waning immunity and the fact that vaccines don't work perfectly, the likelihood is that this virus will echo around the world," Ryan said.

The coronavirus can persist for a long time, even in small communities, waiting for its next opportunity to spread.

"It will survive in those pockets for months and months until another pocket of susceptibility opens up," Ryan said.

The COVID-19 Picture in Ukraine

Even as the conflict in Ukraine enters its fourth week, the COVID-19 surveillance and reporting system remains largely intact, said Adelheid Marschang, MD, the senior emergency officer for the WHO Health Emergencies Program.

"We see at the same time that the testing has decreased," she said.
"Still, we have captured now, I think, something like more than 30,000 new cases."

Recognizing Pandemic Fatigue

The things driving the global increases in case detection "are the same factors that have been driving transmission of this virus since the beginning of the pandemic," said Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD.

"We completely understand that the world needs to move on from COVID-19. But this virus spreads very efficiently between people," said Van Kerkhove, technical lead for COVID-19 response at the WHO and a Health Emergencies Program expert.

"If we don't have the right interventions in place, the virus will take opportunities to continue to spread. And the more the virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change."