WHO raises concerns about hospitalization, ICU rises due to COVID-19

COVID-19 patient in the ICU
COVID-19 patient in the ICU

COVID-19 patient on a ventilator in the ICU., US Marine Corps, Daniel R. Betancourt Jr / Flickr cc

Led by a surge of cases in the United States and many European countries, the global total yesterday topped 43 million cases, a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) reported the biggest single-day case rise in the pandemic.

WHO presses countries not to give up

At a WHO briefing today, WHO officials said last week saw the highest number of cases of the pandemic so far, and 46% were from Europe.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said steep case rises in Northern Hemisphere countries are leading to concerning increases in hospitalizations, with intensive care units (ICUs) at capacity in some places.

He said he understands that fatigue from pandemic measures is real, but he said countries must not give up. "Leaders must balance the disruption to lives and livelihoods with the need to protect health workers and health systems as intensive care fills up."

He said many health workers who served during earlier spikes are still on the frontlines facing a new wave of patients, and the best way to protect them is to take every precaution to reduce the transmission risk to themselves and others.

Avoiding more lockdowns will involve trade-offs, compromises, and sacrifices, such as staying home if exposed to a person diagnosed with COVID-19 and maintaining distancing, wearing a mask, and observing hygiene practices, Tedros said.

He also urged countries to know their epidemics, break transmission chains, test extensively, isolate and care for cases, and trace all contacts. "With these measures, you can catch-up to this virus, you can get ahead of this virus, and you can stay ahead of this virus," he said.

Europe surges prompt more measures

On Oct 24, the WHO reported its biggest single-day rise of 468,409 cases, according to the group's online dashboard. Over the past few weeks, the United States has replaced India as the country with the highest daily case total, but the accelerating global trend is also being driven by several European countries that are in their second waves and reporting daily record-high cases.

For example, France today reported 52,010 cases today, far exceeding its previous daily high, CNN reported. Nearly half of the country's ICU beds are full of COVID-19 patients, with ICU beds at 64% occupancy in the Paris region.

Spain's prime minister yesterday announced a new state of emergency to curb its surge in cases. The measures include night curfews in some locations, a travel ban among regions in others, and limiting gatherings to six people, Reuters reported.

Though Germany's surge isn't as big, health officials have now ordered a lockdown for a second hot spot, Rottal-Inn district in Bavaria. The 2-week order affects about 120,000 people, according to Reuters. Federal and state leaders are expected to meet this week to decide if tighter measures are needed.

In another German development, assailants yesterday attacked the Robert Koch Institute, a federal agency that researches and manages infectious diseases, with a bottle-based incendiary device, causing mild damage. Police are investigating if the attack was politically motivated.

China launches mass testing in new outbreak

Following a report of one asymptomatic case in Kashgar prefecture in China's Xinjiang province in the far west, the country launched a mass testing campaign that has so far identified 137 more asymptomatic cases, the most the country has reported in a single day in about 7 months, CNN reported.

A lockdown has been ordered for the area, with that and the testing campaign targeting nearly 5 million people. So far, 2.8 million have been tested, and officials expect to finish testing tomorrow. An earlier outbreak in Xinjiang province was reported in March.

In other global developments:

  • AstraZeneca said today that the COVID-19 vaccine that it's developing with Oxford University appears to have similar immunogenicity in older and younger age groups, with less reactogenicity in older age groups, Reuters reported, citing a company spokesman.

  • In Australia, a lockdown in Melbourne—the main hot spot in the country's last spike in activity—will wind down tomorrow, after health officials in Victoria state yesterday reported no new cases or deaths for the first time in 4 months, according to CNN.

  • The global total today climbed to 43,331,259 cases, and 1,157,051 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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