By Steven Grattan
(Reuters) -The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on Wednesday warned of the growing number of COVID-19 cases caused by the highly infectious BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants of the coronavirus even as overall cases dipped in the Americas.
There were 1,562,967 new COVID-19 cases in the Americas last week, a 0.9% decrease, PAHO said at a news conference, while deaths fell 3.5% to 4,789.
But PAHO Director Dr. Carissa Etienne cautioned that the Omicron subvariants, now dominant in the United States and several other countries, "is driving new infections across the Americas."
"The emergence of BA.4 and BA.5 is yet another reminder that the virus keeps evolving every time it is transmitted, and that we must remain vigilant," Etienne said.
She urged countries in the Americas to reintroduce public health measures like the use of facemasks and social distancing when cases spike.
"This virus knows no borders, especially now that international travel has resumed. We must use every tool at our disposal to protect ourselves, particularly those of us most vulnerable to severe disease and death."
Compared to the previous week, COVID-19 cases increased by 2% in South America and by 55% in Central America. Cases decreased 5.2% in the Caribbean and 4.5% in North America.
COVID-19 related deaths jumped 14.2% in South America, while they decreased in the remaining three subregions in the Americas, PAHO said.
(Reporting by Steven Grattan in Mexico City; Editing by Bill Berkrot)