The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, attends a press conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 28, 2020.
Denis Balibouse | Reuters
The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating worldwide as many countries that reopened their economies see a resurgence in Covid-19 cases, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said Monday.
“Although many countries have made some progress, globally, the pandemic is actually accelerating,” he said during a virtual press conference from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva. “We all want this to end. We all want to get on with our lives, but the harsh reality is that this is not even close to ending.”
The virus has infected more than 10.1 million people worldwide and has killed more than 502,000 people so far, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 60% of daily new cases come from countries of the Americas on Sunday, according to data published by the WHO.
According to WHO data, more than 23% of the 189,077 new cases reported worldwide on Sunday come from the US Brazil was the only country in the world that reported more new cases on Sunday than the United States, according to the WHO. .
“Some countries have experienced a resurgence of cases as their economies and societies begin to reopen,” said Tedros. “Most people are still susceptible. The virus still has a lot of room to move.”
The United States is among the countries experiencing a resurgence of infection after reopening business and easing restrictions on large areas of the country. New cases have emerged in various states across the country, setting new records almost daily, driven primarily by outbreak expansion in the southern and western United States. Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona are just a few of the states that reported record counts of new daily cases last week.
As cases in the US have continued to rise, the average age of patients has decreased, according to state officials in Florida, Texas and elsewhere. Some state officials say this is why Covid-19 deaths have decreased even as cases increase, as the virus is more deadly in older populations. However, several health officials, including White House health adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned that deaths will increase over time, especially as younger patients infect older and more vulnerable people.
The ongoing strategy of extensively testing the virus, investigating infections, identifying people who may have been exposed, isolating infected people and improving treatment for patients will save lives, Tedros said.
“The most important intervention to break transmission chains is not necessarily high-tech and can be carried out by a wide range of professions. It is about tracking and quarantine contacts,” he said. “Six months since the virus started, it could be like a scratched disk saying exactly the same thing, but the same thing works. Test, test, isolate, quarantine cases.”
Tedros specifically cited dexamethasone, a cheap and widely available steroid, as an example of how doctors have learned to better serve Covid-19 patients and save lives. Researchers from the University of Oxford published results of their trial earlier this month that showed that the steroid can reduce the risk of death by one third for Covid-19 patients with respirators, and by a fifth for those with supplemental oxygen.
Japan has done a particularly good job of preserving life and protecting the most vulnerable members of society, Tedros said. Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world, he said, but has maintained one of the lowest Covid-19 death rates. The virus has infected more than 18,476 people in Japan, according to Hopkins data, and has killed at least 972 people.
South Korea is another example of a successful response, Tedros said, adding that “South Korea has shown the world that even without vaccines or therapeutics, it can reduce the number of cases and suppress the outbreak.”
South Korea was one of the first countries outside of China to be affected by the virus. Government officials quickly accelerated the tests and directed it to people who may have been exposed to known groups of infection. Government officials used credit card transaction data and cell phone tracking information to identify who may have been exposed to the virus.
Tedros said some governments should consider replicating South Korea’s strategy to test, locate contacts, and isolate infected people. He added that governments should involve the community in any effort to increase testing, tracing and isolation.
Countries need to come together to learn from each other’s experiences in fighting the virus, Tedros said, stressing that “lack of global solidarity” has hampered the global response.
“The worst is yet to come,” as many nations and world leaders remain divided on how to fight the virus, Tedros said. “I’m sorry to say that, but with this type of environment and condition, we fear the worst. And that’s why we have to unite our actions and fight this dangerous virus.”
– CNBC’s Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this report.