WHO warns of tough months ahead as COVID tops 42 million

Frontline COVID-19 healthcare worker
Frontline COVID-19 healthcare worker

UN Women, Pathumporn Thongking / Flickr cc

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) today had a grim warning about the next months with COVID-19, warning that some countries are on a "dangerous track."

Its latest assessment came on a day when the WHO reported the most cases ever in a single day, 445,419, roughly half of them from Europe. Meanwhile, the pandemic total passed 42 million cases, currently standing at 42,006,178 cases, 1,140,759 of them fatal, according to the Johns Hopkins online tracker.

At a critical juncture

At a media briefing today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said the world is at a "critical juncture" with the pandemic, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. "The next few months are going to be very tough, and some countries are on a dangerous track," he said, noting that too many countries are reporting exponential increases in cases.

Rising cases are now putting hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) near or above capacity, "and we're still only in October," he said.

Tedros urged countries to take five key steps, which include conducting an honest analysis of the data to assess the current situation, making COVID-19 measure adjustments when hospitalizations and ICU rates are rising, and being clear and honest with the public about their pandemic status. He also pressed governments to make it easier to comply with measures and, finally, to give people specific instructions on what sick or exposed people should do and share stories of hope and resilience.

Mandatory stay-at-home orders can be avoided if countries fine-tune their contact-tracing systems and focus on isolating all cases and quarantining their contacts, he said. "We've seen many times from around the world that it's never too late for leaders to act and turn the outbreak around."        

Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, said Europe's situation is very worrying and that many cities will reach full ICU capacity in the coming weeks. And Mike Ryan, MD, who directs the WHO's health emergencies program, urged countries to shore up frontline health systems so that they do not collapse under the caseload.

European cases stretch healthcare systems

In related developments, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in an updated risk assessment today said virus activity is extremely high in some areas, with marked escalation in recent weeks.

It added that substantial increases in infections in younger people are now spilling over into older age-groups, with the healthcare situation deteriorating and already at one third of the capacity seen at the spring peak.

Several European countries today reported new record daily highs, including Italy, with 19,143 cases, though deaths are running far fewer than the country's first pandemic wave, Reuters reported. Other countries reaching new daily case highs include Belgium, Russia, Poland, and the Ukraine.

Elsewhere in the world:

  • Iran reported another record daily high, 6,134 cases, and 27 of the country's 31 provinces are classified as coronavirus red zones, CNN reports.

  • India, which had reported the world's biggest daily totals, approaching 100,000 during September, continues to report declining cases, with about 54,000 reported yesterday.

  • South Korea reported its most cases since Sep 11, with 155 added to its total, mostly from clusters in facilities such as nursing homes that house high-risk groups, according to CNN.

US cases rise steadily in third spike

The United States, now with the world's most daily cases, yesterday reported 71,671 new COVID-19 cases—the country's third highest since the pandemic began—and 856 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Hospitalizations, which often lag the rise in cases, are now at 41,010, the highest since Sep 20, according to the COVID Tracking project. The US total has reached 8,468,802 cases and 223,730 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

In Wisconsin, all but four counties are reporting very high levels of COVID-19 activity, with 3,413 new cases yesterday, 22 of them fatal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Six states reported record daily deaths yesterday, and seven states set records for 7-day average hospitalizations, CNBC reported.

Last night, the national pandemic response was one of the main topics in the second and final presidential debate, with President Donald Trump suggesting that the United States is "rounding the corner" and that vaccines will be available soon. Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden argued that the nation is going into a "dark winter" and that the Trump administration lacks a plan for handling coronavirus.

In other US developments:

  • At yesterday's meeting of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, experts discussed vaccine hesitancy, concerns about the speed of the COVID-19 vaccine process, and distrust of the government among vaccine recipients, especially frontline health workers and people of color, NPR reports.

  • The pandemic is forcing a sweeping overhaul of the workforce, leading to permanent job losses and forcing millions of Americans to seek employment in different industries, Politico It noted that only two thirds of Americans worked for the same employer in September as they did in February, and they pointed to a Brookings Institution survey that found 42% of jobs lost due the pandemic may be gone for good.

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