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Coronavirus Update: Biden says U.S. turning corner on COVID, but experts are worried that BA.2 is pushing cases higher in 15 states

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President Joe Biden said Wednesday the U.S. is turning the page on the COVID-19 pandemic, as his administration took the wraps off a website that aims to help Americans find tests, treatments and other resources.

“Because of the strategy we executed over the past year on vaccinations, testing, treatments and more, we’re now in a new moment in this pandemic,” he said during a brief speech. “That does not mean that COVID-19 is over. It means that COVID-19 no longer controls our lives.”

Biden acknowledged that cases are ticking up in some areas, “as we thought they might, but now thanks to the foundation we’ve laid, America has the tools to protect people,” he said.

Biden received his second booster dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer
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and German partner BioNTech
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which is now authorized for everyone aged 50 and older.

The president also reiterated his call for Congress to provide more funding for that program and for the overall COVID response, after it was removed from a recent spending bill because of a disagreement about how it would be financed.

See: Biden officials warn that lack of additional COVID aid will mean not enough vaccine doses, reduced testing capacity

The funding issue comes at a time when the government’s vaccine program has stalled before most Americans have had their first booster shot and before many have even had their primary shots.

Like many countries that had early access to vaccines, the U.S. has started to behave as if the pandemic were in an endemic phase, meaning the virus is still with us but is no longer causing steep spikes in cases and overwhelming health care systems.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday warned against that complacency, which has led to a sharp reduction in testing and tracking.

“COVID-19 remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and it is too early to reduce the quality of surveillance,” the agency said in its weekly epidemiological update.

Read: Los Angeles ends its vaccine verification mandate for businesses

Data are becoming “progressively less representative, less timely and less robust,” the WHO warned, urging countries to stay on track as new variants are expected to emerge.

Read now: WHO urges countries to keep up COVID-19 testing and surveillance as the viral outbreak remains a global pandemic

U.S. COVID numbers are certainly far better now than they were just a few months ago when the highly transmissible omicron variant was causing a surge in cases.

New cases are averaging 27.621, down 12% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker, and hospitalizations are down 40% at an average of 17,092. The daily death toll is also declining to an average of 702 a day, down 44% from two weeks ago.

But cases are rising again in at least 14 states, as well as Puerto Rico and American Samoa, as the now-dominant BA.2 subvariant of omicron continues to spread. 

Experts are concerned about the likelihood of a new wave of cases in the U.S. which typically lags Europe by a few weeks. European cases have been rising steadily in recent weeks, fueled by the BA.2 variant.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted the warning it had attached to cruises since the start of the pandemic, a move welcomed by cruise-ship operators that created alarm among health care experts.

The CDC acknowledged that there is “some risk of COVID-19 transmission” on cruises, but left it to travelers to make their own decision.

See also: Open Orphan Says Successful Covid-19 Human Challenge Study Has Been Peer Reviewed

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• The full data from a Brazilian study of the anti-parasite treatment Ivermectin found it showed no sign of alleviating COVID-19, confirming a summary of the data that was released last August. The data was published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study involved 1,300 people who tested positive for COVID, and effectively ruled out the use of the drug, which has become popular during the pandemic despite a lack of research to support its use, as the New York Times reported. That’s after it was touted by the former President Donald Trump and radio jock Joe Rogan, among others.

• The city of Shanghai prepared Thursday to reopen its eastern half and shut its western half, while authorities elsewhere announced the lifting of a citywide lockdown in the province hit hardest by China’s omicron-driven coronavirus outbreak, the Associated Press reported. Residents of Jilin will be able to move about freely starting Friday for the first time in more than three weeks. China has been battling its largest COVID-19 outbreak since the initial one in early 2020 that devastated the city of Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province.

Read also: Unreported COVID infections, deaths plague a Shanghai elderly-care hospital

Barricades, panic buying and empty streets are some scenes from Shanghai as China’s most populous city imposed a new lockdown. Offices and factories – including Tesla’s – were affected by China’s measures against its worst virus outbreak in two years. Photo: Aly Song/Reuters

• The risk of being reinfected with COVID in the UK is about 10 times higher with omicron than it was with delta, New Scientist reported. The journal cited an Office for National Statistics’ survey of cases recorded from Dec. 20 to March 20. UK cases are worryingly high again with one in 15 people currently suffering from the illness, according to the Independent, up 7% in a week. The paper cited the ZOE COVID Study incidence figures that show 349,011 new daily symptomatic cases of COVID in the UK on average at present.

• Novavax
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is seeking expanded authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine in the European Union for adolescents aged 12 to 17. The submission includes data from a Phase 3 trial involving 2,247 adolescents across 73 sites in the U.S. that found the vaccine showed 80% efficacy overall while the delta variant was still dominant. The Indian regulator recently approved the use of the Novavax vaccine for restricted use in adolescents in that age group, said the statement. The European Medicines Agency has granted it authorization for people 18 years and older. 

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 487 million on Tuesday, while the death toll rose above 6.13 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 80 million cases and 979,873 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 217.6 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.5% of the population. But just 97.5 million are boosted, equal to 44.8% of the vaccinated population.

Additional reporting by Victor Reklaitis and Jaimy Lee

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