New COVID-19 cases drop everywhere: WHO

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The number of new coronavirus cases and deaths reported globally continues to fall nearly everywhere in what the World Health Organisation has described as a "welcome decline" at a media briefing.

The United Nations health agency said there were 4.5 million new COVID-19 cases reported last week, a 16 per cent drop from the previous week.

Deaths were also down by 13 per cent, with about 13,500 fatalities.

The WHO said COVID-19 infections dropped everywhere in the world while deaths decreased everywhere except for Southeast Asia, where they climbed by 15 per cent and in the western Pacific, where they rose by 3 per cent.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that with the coming onset of winter in the northern hemisphere and the possible emergence of a more dangerous new COVID-19 variant, experts expect to see a spike in hospitalisations and deaths.

Tedros said vaccination rates, even in rich countries, were still too low, noting that 30 per cent of health workers and 20 per cent of older people remain unimmunised.

"These vaccination gaps pose a risk to all of us," he said.

"Please get vaccinated if you are not and a booster if it's recommended that you have one."

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration cleared its first update to COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, approving booster doses that target the most common Omicron strain.

Authorities said shots could begin within days.

Until now, COVID-19 vaccines have targeted the original coronavirus strain even as wildly different mutants emerged.

The new US boosters are combination, or "bivalent" shots.

They contain half that original vaccine recipe and half protection against the newest Omicron versions, called BA.4 and BA.5, which are considered the most contagious yet.

Earlier this month, the United Kingdom decided it would offer adults 50 and over a different booster option from Moderna, a combo shot targeting that initial BA.1 Omicron strain.

On Friday, the European Medicines Agency will consider whether to authorise the combination COVID-19 vaccine including BA.1 made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Another version of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine incorporating the BA.5 subvariant of Omicron is also under review by the European Union regulator.