Pandemic total speeds past 16 million

With the global COVID-19 total now over 16 million, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said today that pandemic activity is accelerating, with fresh clusters reported in Vietnam, a country that had controlled the spread of the virus.

The pandemic total made the jump from 15 million to 16 million in just 4 days, and today the number has reached 16,350,348 cases, and 650,553 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

WHO: Cases doubled over last 6 weeks

At a media briefing today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said cases have roughly doubled over the past 6 weeks. He noted that Jul 30 marks the 6-month mark since the WHO—when there were fewer than 100 cases outside of China with no deaths—declared a public health emergency of international concern under the International Health Regulations.

"It has shown what humans are capable of, both positively and negatively," he said. "We have learned an enormous amount, and we're still learning."

Though the world has changed, the main pillars of the response haven't, which include political leadership combined with informing, engaging, and listening to communities, Tedros said. "The bottom line is that one of the most fundamental ingredients for stopping the virus is determination and the willingness to make hard choices to keep ourselves and each other safe."

Mixed picture fueling transmission

Much of the recent surge is from Latin America, especially Brazil, and the United States and India, all large populous countries. For example, yesterday, India and the United States alone added more than 100,000 cases to the global total.

At today's briefing, Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, said the current global situation reflects a complex picture, with many countries struggling in the thick of intense transmission, while others have passed their first peak or suppressed transmission and are now experiencing resurgences and clusters.

She emphasized that even countries in the intense phase can turn their situations around with strong leadership, consistent messaging, mitigation steps, and ensuring that everyone plays their part.

Mike Ryan, MD, who heads the WHO's health emergencies program, said COVID-19 levels can rise whenever suppression measures are lifted, and the question shouldn't be what wave countries are in but rather how much pressure they are putting on the virus.

The goal is to avoid reigniting community transmission and sustained transmission, and governments should be praised when they pick up on signals and clusters, he said.

Tedros added that at the end of the day, the focus shouldn't be on the number of cases, but on saving lives, which involves identifying vulnerable groups and keeping death rates to a minimum, as countries such as Japan and Australia have done.

Vietnam, China, and Hong Kong report case spikes

After 3 months with no locally acquired cases, Vietnam reported a few local cases, three in Da Nang, its fifth-largest city, and one in Quang Ngai province, Xinhua reported. The detection of cases in Da Nang prompted new social distancing measures.

Other media reports described 11 cases linked to a Da Nang hospital and the evacuation of 80,000 local tourists from Da Nang.

Elsewhere in Asia, China yesterday recorded 61 new cases, the most since March. In its daily report, the country's National Health Commission said 57 of the 61 cases were locally acquired, including 41 from Xinjiang province, where an outbreak has been under way in Urumqi, its capital, as well as 14 from Liaoning province and 2 from Jilin province.

Also, Hong Kong today reported a daily record total, with 145 new cases, the Center for Health Protection said in a statement. All but three are locally acquired cases. The continued rise in cases, the region's third such spike, prompted even tougher new distancing measures, which curb all dining in restaurants and mandate wearing masks in public outdoors, the South China Morning Post reported. Some of Hong Kong's cases are related to outbreaks at two nursing homes.

In other developments:

  • Australia reported another daily record high of 549 cases, mostly from Victoria state, which is experiencing an outbreak in the Melbourne area, Reuters
  • North Korea declared an emergency and a lockdown in a town that borders South Korea due to the identification of a patient with a suspected COVID-19 infection who returned from South Korea after an illegal border crossing, according to Reuters.
  • Germany is considering mandatory testing for travelers arriving from high-risk countries, according to media reports.

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