WHO warns of worse pandemic without detailed national plans

Masked bus passenger
Masked bus passenger

Matthias Berg / Flickr cc

With the global COVID-19 total just shy of 13 million cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a record high 230,000 cases yesterday, amid warnings from the group that many countries are headed in the wrong direction.

The global total today climbed to 12,995,037 cases, and 570,435 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Mixed messages undermine response

At a media briefing today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said nearly 80% of the latest cases are from 10 countries, and that 2—the United States and Brazil—make up 50% of the cases. He said half of the global total is from countries in the Americas region.

Tedros said four situations are playing out across the world: countries that responded rapidly and avoided large outbreaks, those that brought large outbreaks under control, those that overcame their first peak and are struggling with new peaks, and those that are in the intense transmission phase.

"Let me be blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction," he said. "The virus remains public enemy number one, but the actions of many governments and people do not reflect this."

Mixed messages from leaders are undermining the most critical element of any response, which is trust, Tedros said.

If governments don't roll out a comprehensive strategy and if the public doesn't follow basic public health measures such as physical distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks, "It’s going to get worse and worse and worse," he said.

Tedros urged governments and individuals to each do their part in driving down virus levels to avoid governments having to lurch from lockdown to lockdown, which hurts societies.

His warning today came against the backdrop of a new United Nations report on food security and nutrition, which estimated that 690 million people went hungry in 2019 and suggests that the pandemic could add 130 million more to the number of people experiencing chronic hunger.

Countries scramble to blunt increases

On several continents, countries that had success containing the virus are detecting and responding to new flare-ups. Hong Kong, currently battling its third wave, today reported 52 new cases, 41 of them locally transmitted, the Center for Health Protection said. A number of the cases are from restaurant-linked clusters.

In light of rising case numbers, Hong Kong on July 15 will reimpose social distancing measures, which will limit gatherings to four people, shutter public places such as gyms and gaming centers, and limit the hours of restaurant carryout, Reuters reported.

In Spain, cases are rising and health officials are tracking more than 100 active clusters, many of them in Catalonia region, according to a separate Reuters report. A court ruling rejected a mandatory lockdown for the region, but Catalonia's leader today urged the area's 160,000 residents to stay home anyway.

Meanwhile, Australia's Victoria state, where the Melbourne area is under new restrictions due to virus resurgence, reported 273 new cases yesterday. And in neighboring New South Wales state, health officials are tracking an outbreak linked to a pub in the southwestern part of Sydney.

Hot spot developments

In the Philippines, cases have tripled since June 1 when officials started easing restrictions, and yesterday the country reported its biggest single-day number of cases, 2,960, amid reports that large hospitals in Manila are at capacity, Reuters reported.

In Mexico, health officials yesterday reported 276 more deaths, pushing its fatality count above Italy's, making Mexico the country with the fourth highest death total, Reuters reported. The country also reported 4,482 more cases. But President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the country's outbreak is losing intensity.

In other global developments:

  • South Africa, Africa's biggest hot spot, is reimposing a ban on alcohol sales to reduce avoidable injuries and reduce the burden on hospitals. It has also ordered a nighttime curfew and has tightened mask requirements. Now the country with the ninth highest case total, South Africa reported 12,058 new cases yesterday.

  • Japanese and US officials are responding to a spate of COVID-19 infections at US military bases in Okinawa. A Japanese official said there were reports of US military personnel leaving base for beach parties and night clubs during the Independence Day weekend, and US officials said they are trying to limit contact with local people and are doing contact tracing of infected troops.

  • China-based CanSino Biologics is in talks with countries still experiencing large numbers of COVID-19 cases as possible sites for launching a phase 3 study of its candidate COVID-19 vaccine. They include Russia, Brazil, Chile, and Saudi Arabia.

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