Global COVID-19 total passes 7.5 million as officials warn about impact on women, kids

The pandemic total topped 7.5 million cases today, with COVID-19 totals surging in low- and middle-income countries and those that are past their peaks and working, with mixed success, to keep illness levels from rising again.

The global total today rose to 7,570,801 cases, and 423,155 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Most of world still in first pandemic wave

At a World Health Organization (WHO) media briefing today, Mike Ryan, MD, director of the group's health emergencies program, said most of the world is very much in the throes of the pandemic's first wave, with some slowly making their way out of it. Brazil, one of the nations where infections are surging, is facing pressure on its health system, but it is still coping with a number of severe cases, he said. Most hospitals are below 80% intensive care unit bed capacity.

Regarding the situations in other countries, Ryan said clusters of cases following the peak don't necessarily mean that a country has entered its second wave. Some increases reflect difficulties some countries are having as they exit their lockdowns, and he said there's a careful balance between keeping people at home and reopening economies.

An alternative to reordering lockdowns, Ryan said, is sophisticated, detailed surveillance that shows exactly where illness levels are going up and down, so that health officials can target interventions at the geographic level where infections are rising, rather than taking blanket measures.

The WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said he is concerned about the global battle against the virus, because the world is divided. He added that countries need unity and solidarity to have better outcomes. "When the world unites to fight a common virus, it succeeds. We should learn from history," he said.

Pandemic's impact on maternal, child, and adolescent health

At today's media briefing, several speakers detailed the effect the pandemic—and its response actions—is having on women, children, and adolescents. The spotlight is part of efforts to recognize the pandemic's secondary impact on a range of other health issues. In earlier briefings, for example, the WHO highlighted the challenges of maintaining childhood immunizations and essential health services.

Tedros said overwhelmed health systems in many places have put women at a greater risk of dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. He added that the WHO has carefully investigated the risk of COVID-19 transmission from mother to baby during breastfeeding, and based on current evidence, the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential COVID-19 transmission risks. Though viral RNA has been found in breast milk, no live virus has been found, and the WHO has issued detailed advice on how to breast feed safety.

The WHO has released self-care resources to help maintain essential sexual and reproductive health services, which cover topics such as HIV self-testing and self-administration of injectable contraceptives.

The WHO is also concerned about the impact on adolescents and young people, with school and university closures having a dramatic impact on their ability to access preventive mental health services for conditions such as anxiety, depression, and sexual violence, Tedros said. And he added that school closures have caused hardships for millions of children who depend on school meal programs.

Natalia Kanem, MD, MSc, PhD, MPH, executive director for the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), was one of four speakers today who detailed the pandemic's impact on women, children, and adolescents and discussed possible solutions. She said the UNPF estimates, for example, that during a 6-month lockdown, 4.7 million women lose access to contraception, which could result in 7 million unintended pregnancies. Kanem also noted that gender-based violence has become "a pandemic within a pandemic."

Cases surge in India and Brazil

India over the past day reported 10,956 cases, its biggest single-day rise, CNN reported. With 297,535 cases, India has now passed the United Kingdom to become the country with the fourth highest total. New Delhi and Mumbai are among the country's main hot spots, and a report today from the Associated Press said crematoriums in the capital city of New Delhi are overwhelmed with people who have died from COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Brazil—the world's second hardest hit country—reported 30,412 more cases yesterday, lifting its total above 800,000, Reuters reported. To protest the federal government's handling of the pandemic, a group dug 100 graves into the sand of Copacabana beach in Rio and marked them with black crosses as a tribute to the 40,000 who have died, according to a separate report.

In other global developments:

  • Beijing education officials delayed the planned start of lower primary school classes next week after new COVID-19 cases were detected in the city, CNN reported today. The city's health commission said two cases were confirmed today in people who worked for the same meat research center plant. Earlier this week, the country reported its first case from Beijing in 2 months, and of seven new cases reported by China's National Health Commission today, one is a local case from Beijing and the other six are imported.
  • Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was questioned today by prosecutors as part of an inquiry demanded by relatives of COVID-19 victims, the BBC said. The inquiry focuses on the lockdown policy in northern Italy hot spots, with relatives arguing that the locations should have been isolated sooner. Other government officials were questioned, too, as part of the probe.

Vaccine makers worry about a glass vial shortage for COVID-19 vaccines that are under development, but vial makers say the rush to secure supplies may make matters worse, Reuters reported. It quoted officials from Schott AG, the world's largest vaccine vial glassmaker, as saying they've turned down requests to reserve output, because they don't want to commit resources before knowing which vaccines will work.

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