As Italy COVID-19 cases soar, WHO tackles PPE, test shortages

Italy today reported a staggering number of new COVID-19 cases—nearly 6,000—along with hundreds more deaths, putting the pandemic's death count past the 10,000 mark, and the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) today said efforts are under way to address the collapse of the personal protective equipment market.

At a media telebriefing today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said every day seems to bring a new and tragic milestone and that one of the greatest concerns is that the virus seems be gaining a foothold in countries with weak health systems. "That concern has now become very real and urgent," he said, adding that countries and their health partners still have the power to alter the course of the disease.

As of this afternoon, the global COVID-19 total had climbed to 259,314 cases, 11,286 of them fatal, in 165 countries.

WHO grapples with PPE, test shortages

With pandemic activity surging on several different continents, Tedros said the collapse of the personal protective equipment (PPE) market poses extreme difficulties for protecting healthcare workers. He said the WHO has identified some producers in China who have agreed to supply the WHO and that the agency is finalizing arrangements and coordinating shipments to refill the WHO's warehouse and ship PPE to whomever needs it.

He said the goal is to build a pipeline to ensure continuity, with support from partners, governments, and the private sector. He thanked the Jack Ma Foundation and Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian philanthropist, for their help of countries in need.

Tedros also addressed the need to increase the global supply of diagnostic tests. "There are many companies globally that produce diagnostic kits, but WHO can only buy or recommend kits that have been evaluated independently, to ensure their quality," he said. The WHO is working with the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) to line up more labs to evaluate new diagnostics. Tedros also said the WHO is working with companies to boost the supply of other products needed to perform the tests, such as swabs and the machines needed to run them.

Ryan said according to the different projections the WHO has examined, lab tests need to increase by 80-fold. "The greatest tragedy for me is the prospect of losing part of our healthcare workforce."

Young peoples' risks, health of cooped-up people

At today's briefing, Tedros also warned that young people are not invincible, and that solidarity is needed, not only among nations, but among age-groups. To increase access to reliable information, he said the WHO, WhatsApp, and Facebook have launched a new health alert messaging service to provide the latest news and information on COVID-19.

And given the millions of people across the globe who are sheltering in place, Tedros said it's important for people to look after their health, such as through a nutritious diet, limiting alcohol consumption, avoiding smoking, exercising regularly, and maintaining social connections, which will also help fight COVID-19.

"If you're working at home, make sure you don't sit in the same position for long periods. Get up and take a 3-minute break every 30 minutes," he said, adding that the WHO will provide more advice on staying healthy at home in the weeks ahead.

Italy cases near 50,000

Italy today reported 5,986 newly confirmed cases, boosting its overall total to 47,021, according to the health ministry. It also reported 627 deaths, putting the fatality count at 4,031.

Italian officials announced today that the military will be called in to help enforce the lockdown in Lombardy, the country's most-affected hot spot, according to a CNN report that also said intensive care unit patients are being sent to other regions and that a field hospital will be built in Bergamo to handle some of the overflow.

Meanwhile, Spain, Europe's second worst-hit country, reported 1,903 more cases and 169 more deaths, increasing its respective totals to 19,980 and 1,002. A Spanish official from Madrid, the country's outbreak epicenter, today warned that 80% of the population might become infected, CNN reported.

France today added 1,617 more cases, increasing its overall total to 12,612, which includes 450 deaths.

In Germany, Bavaria state—the country's largest, with a population of 13 million—ordered a lockdown, the first for the country, Agence France-Presse reported. The order goes into effect at midnight and is slated to last for 2 weeks. According to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany—which now has more cases than Iran and has the fourth most in the world—has reported 2,958 cases, raising its total to 13,957 cases, 31 of them fatal.

Other global developments

Iran today reported 1,237 more cases, plus 149 more deaths, upping its respective overall totals to 19,644 and 1,433, according to the country's health ministry. In other developments:

  • Saudi Arabia suspended prayers inside and outside mosques in Mecca and Medina and shut down transportation and flights to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, Al Jazeera reported today, noting that the country reported 36 new cases today, for a total of 274, none of them fatal.

  • Argentina ordered a lockdown, Anadolu Agency reported, noting that the country has 128 cases, 3 of them fatal.

  • Haiti confirmed its first two cases, which prompted the country's president to announce strict new measures, such as a curfew, France24 reported.
  • China for the second day in a row reported no new local cases, though it reported 39 imported ones in different cities, according to the latest report from the National Health Commission. The country now has at least 228 imported cases.

  • Hong Kong, which is seeing resurgence in activity, reported its highest daily total, with the addition of 48 more cases, the Centre for Health Protection said in a statement, which notes that the total is now 257 cases.

  • Madagascar reported its first three known cases, according to Reuters.

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