The number of new coronavirus cases and deaths reported to the World Health Organization fell for the third week in a row, a trend likely driven by the dismantling of testing and surveillance arrangements.
In its weekly pandemic report issued Tuesday night, the U.N. health agency says 7 million new cases were reported, 24% fewer than the previous week. The weekly number of deaths worldwide fell 18% to 22,000.
The WHO called for the figures to be interpreted with caution, as many countries have changed their testing strategies, meaning that far fewer cases are being identified.
New cases are down in all regions of the world, including the western Pacific, where a spike has prompted strong quarantine measures in China.
WHO said it is monitoring several downstream mutations of the omicron variant, including some recombinant forms of existing omicron subvariants.
In a separate statement, the organization said scientists in Botswana and South Africa have detected new forms of the omicron variant, labeled BA.4 and BA.5, but are uncertain whether they may be more contagious or dangerous.
To date, new versions of omicron have been detected in four people in Botswana and 23 in South Africa. In addition, cases have been detected in Belgium, Germany, Denmark and Great Britain.
WHO said that so far there is no evidence that the new subvariants are transmitted differently than the original omicron variant.
There is no cause for alarm with the emergence of the new subvariants, said WHO Africa director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti. We have not yet seen a major increase in cases, hospitalizations or deaths.
The agency asked all countries to sequence at least 5% of their COVID-19 samples. Many countries, such as the United States, Great Britain and Sweden, ended their widespread testing programs when the number of serious cases dropped dramatically.