The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) today addressed unknowns surrounding asymptomatic spread, as surges continue in several hot spots, including Brazil, amid warnings that the upcoming Southern Hemisphere flu season and the hurricane season pose extra challenges to countries grappling with COVID-19.
The global total today climbed to 7,313,661 cases, and at least 413,854 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.
Experts learning as they go
At a regularly scheduled WHO media briefing today, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, addressed recent confusion about asymptomatic COVID-19 transmission, which arose at a briefing on Jun 8, with WHO officials clarifying the information yesterday during a Facebook live session.
"I have talked about humility a number of times over the last few months, and I think it's fair to say that this microscopic virus has humbled all of us," he said.
The emergence of a new virus means that experts are learning as they go, Tedros said, noting that, since February, the WHO has said asymptomatic people can transmit the virus, but more research is needed to establish the extent. "That research is ongoing."
However, what is known is that finding, isolating, and testing people with symptoms, and tracing and quarantining their contacts, are the most important steps for stopping COVID-19 transmission, he said.
"Communicating complex science in real time about a new virus is not always easy, but we believe it's part of our duty to the world. And we can always do better," Tedros said, adding that the WHO welcomes constructive debate as part of advancing science and that its advice will evolve as new information is available.
PAHO warns of flu, hurricane threats
In other Latin American developments, Carissa Etienne, MBBS, MSc, the director of the WHO's Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said yesterday at a media briefing that 3.3 million cases have now been reported in the Americas region and that many areas are reporting exponential increases in cases and deaths. She added that virus activity is surging in areas that had previously reported limited cases.
She also warned that the battle against the virus in South America will be complicated by the onset of winter respiratory virus season and that efforts in North and Central America will likely face hurricane-related challenges. Etienne warned that infections from other respiratory viruses can place an extra burden on health systems and put people at greater risk of more severe COVID-19 infections.
Flu vaccination this season is important, especially for high-risk groups, she said, adding that PAHO is helping countries buy vaccine through its revolving fund, which helped secure 24 million doses.
Etienne also urged health officials in Caribbean locations, Central America, and the US East Coast to review and conduct simulation exercises for hurricane response plans to ensure that they align with COVID-19 responses.
In another developments, PAHO said the organization and officials from Venezuela's health ministry and the opposing National Assembly advisory team met yesterday and agreed to prioritize access to protective equipment for healthcare workers, medicine and supplies for treatment and intensive care, and decentralized testing, as well as to target the most affected states. In a statement, PAHO said it also renewed its commitment to help the country—which is in the midst of a severe economic and political crisis—to look for financial resources to battle the virus.
PAHO said both groups have requested its technical and administrative support.
Brazil resumes posting case data
Brazil's health ministry yesterday resumed listing detailed cumulative data on COVID-19 cases and deaths, after accusations that it was trying to hide the severity of its outbreak and after a ruling by a Supreme Court justice, Reuters reported.
The country had temporarily stopped listing cumulative numbers and state breakdowns after President Jair Bolsonaro said on Twitter that the information didn't reflect the current status of Brazil's outbreak. Bolsonaro has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat.
Yesterday's numbers revealed 32,091 new cases and 1,272 new deaths. With 739,503 cases, Brazil has the world's second most, and its 38,406 deaths rank third behind the United States and United Kingdom.
WHO urges Pakistan to consider intermittent lockdowns
The WHO's representative in Pakistan yesterday sent a letter to the health minister of Punjab province, which noted that the country hasn't met any of the six recommended conditions for easing a lockdown and urged that it consider intermittent lockdowns in heavily affected areas to help slow the spread of the virus, The Nation, an English-language newspaper based in Lahore, reported.
The WHO recommended 2-week on and off lockdowns and boosting testing capacity above 50,000 per day.
Pakistan completely relaxed all of its distancing measures on May 22, and COVID-19 activity has steadily increased, with the virus circulating in nearly all of the country's districts, though major cities are reporting most of the cases. The country reported 4,646 cases yesterday, bringing its total to 108,317.
Elsewhere in South Asia, India's second largest city, Mumbai, has now reported 51,000 COVID-19 cases, passing Wuhan's peak, according to a BBC report. A COVID-19 surge continues in India, where more than 276,000 cases have been reported so far.