WHO extends COVID-19 emergency as global total tops 45 million

With surges accelerating in the United States and Europe, the global COVID-19 case total today passed 45 million with a record single-day high as the World Health Organization (WHO) reports 505,756 new cases so far.

Also, Belgium—one of the European countries reporting a surge of infections—today became that region's latest to announce another national lockdown.

Panel experts tweak WHO guidance

At a WHO media briefing today, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said the agency's COVID-19 emergency committee wrapped up its fifth review of COVID-19 developments and unanimously agreed that the situation still warrants a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) under the International Health Regulations (IHR).

As part of its review, the committee also tweaked its temporary recommendations. Didier Houssin, MD, who chairs the panel, said the main recommendations were for the WHO to update its travel recommendations as more countries make use of testing to assist with safe travel and for member countries to avoid politicizing the virus.

In another development, WHO officials said an international expert group met virtually with Chinese counterparts today in advance of a joint effort to investigate the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The WHO also emphasized the importance of addressing the long-term effects of the virus in "long haulers" who have ongoing symptoms and featured testimony from three patients who have faced difficult recoveries.

Tedros said their experiences reinforce how dangerous COVID-19 infection can be and how pursuing a herd immunity strategy could lead to a significant number of people facing long roads to recovery.

Belgium announces lockdown

With Europe well into its second COVID-19 surge, Belgium today announced a new national lockdown, which comes just 2 days after France and Germany announced similar measures. On Oct 19, Ireland announced a 6-week lockdown, the first European Union country to do so.

Belgium, with the highest infection rate in Europe, ordered nonessential shops and businesses to close starting on Nov 2 through the middle of December, the BBC reported. It also limited gatherings in public spaces to four people and extended the fall school holidays until Nov 15. The country already has a night curfew and has closed restaurants and bars.

More than half of Belgium's intensive care unit beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients. Prime Minister Alexander de Cross said the country is in a public health emergency and that the new measures are the last chance to drive down its infection numbers.

Elsewhere, COVID-19 activity continued at a brisk pace in other European hot spots, with several reporting more single-day highs, including Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland.

The global total today reached 45,426,712 cases, and 1,185,200 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.

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