Global COVID-19 cases top 7 million, deaths exceed 400,000

High-tech globe
High-tech globe

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With cases in Europe declining but numbers quickly growing in the Americas and other hot spots, the global COVID-19 total today passed 7 million cases, with deaths topping 400,000.

It took 9 days for cases to climb from 6 million to 7 million, the same span it took to move from 5 million to 6 million. As of today, the global total stands at 7,081,665 cases, and 405,002 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Worsening global situation

At a media briefing today, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said, "Although the situation in Europe is improving, globally it is worsening." He said yesterday 136,000 cases were reported, the world's largest 1-day total. He added that 75% of yesterday's cases were from 10 countries, mostly in the Americas and South Asia.

Elsewhere, cases are rising in Africa and in some parts of eastern Europe and central Asia, he said. Tedros added, however, that several countries are seeing positive signs—but tempered with complacency. Seroprevalence studies so far suggest that a large portion of populations are still susceptible to the virus.

Tedros urged countries to continue active surveillance for the novel coronavirus, especially given that mass gatherings are starting to resume in some countries. The WHO fully supports equity and the global movement against racism, and Tedros urged protestors to do so safely by physical distancing as much as possible, cleaning their hands, covering coughs, and wearing masks.

Though some countries discouraged protests because of the threat of COVID-19 at a time when many countries are reopening, but events across multiple continents drew crowds of several thousand. Thailand, however, held its Black Lives Matter protest on Zoom.

More details on asymptomatic infections

A report today from Reuters on numbers of asymptomatic cases detected in Singapore's recent testing triggered questions today about what is known about the spread of the virus from people without clinical symptoms.

Singapore has been testing all migrant workers, following recent clusters reported in crowded dorms where they live. The Reuters report said at least half were asymptomatic.

Also, an effort to test the whole city of Wuhan, China, recently identified 300 asymptomatic carriers, and Chinese officials said today that swabs and cultures of those patients yielded no live viruses, hinting that virus levels may be very low or that no detectable virus is present, Xinhua, China's state news agency reported. Testing of more than 1,100 contacts of the 300 asymptomatic carriers identified no new cases.

Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, said today at the media briefing that countries are mainly turning up asymptomatic cases during testing in connection with contract tracing. "That's what we want to see," she said.

Though some people are truly asymptomatic, the percentage isn't known, given that so many actually have a mild form of the disease, with no fever and no significant cough, Van Kerkhove said. WHO officials have also noted a role for virus spread when patients are presymptomatic. Transmission from people who have no clinical symptoms needs to be followed carefully, but so far, indications from unpublished data suggest that secondary transmission from asymptomatic people is very rare, she added.

It's more important to focus on transmission from symptomatic cases, identifying sick people, isolating them, and following up with their contacts, Van Kerhkove said, adding that following symptomatic cases would dramatically reduce transmission.

WHO recently published new guidance on contact tracing technology, stating that more evidence is needed to gauge the effectiveness of some of the new tools. Tomorrow it will convene an online consultation with contact tracing experts.

Brazil's president threatens WHO withdrawal

As cases in Brazil continue to soar, President Jair Bolsonaro on Jun 5 threatened to leave the WHO after it warned Latin American countries about lifting restrictions too quickly, in light of rapidly rising case numbers in many nations in the region, Reuters reported.

Late last week, Brazil's death toll passed Italy's to make it the third highest in the world, behind the United States and United Kingdom.

The next day, Brazil's health ministry removed case data from its website, including cumulative case numbers by state and city, as well the overall total, and Bolsonaro said on Twitter that the information didn't reflect the current status of Brazil's outbreak. Then yesterday, the health ministry sent out conflicting  information on cases and deaths. Today Brazil's toll reached 36,455 confirmed fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins.

At today's media briefing, Mike Ryan, MD, head of the WHO's health emergencies program, said Brazil continues to report daily disaggregated data to the WHO's Pan American Health Organization and that Brazil, with its large and diverse population and many vulnerable groups, deserves the WHO's full support. He added that it's important that transparency and information sharing is consistent, so that citizens know where the virus is and how to assess their risk.

In other Latin America developments:

  • Chile adjusted its death toll dramatically upward yesterday, adding 653 from databases that had not been included, for a total of 2,290 in its outbreak, Reuters reported.
  • Panama yesterday announced that it was reinstating distancing measures in two provinces: Panama, which includes its capital city, and Panama Oeste.
  • Honduras yesterday extended its curfew another week, until Jun 14, though it is beginning to reopen its economy today.

Other hot spots

India on Jun 6 reported a daily high total of 9,887 cases, passing Italy to become the world's sixth hardest-hit nation, Reuters reported, and it has since passed Spain's total to move into the #5 spot, with 265,869 total cases. Meanwhile, neighboring Pakistan's total rose past 100,000 cases, with record cases reported over the last several days, mainly due to increased testing.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia's total topped 100,000 cases, Reuters reported yesterday. The country and others in the region have reported outbreak in migrant workers who live in crowded housing.

Iran's recent spike in infections was triggered by a wedding party, Iran's president said on Jun 6, though he did not offer other details. The country is experiencing a second wave of infections.

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