Three months later, pandemic accelerates around the world

A woman wearing a face mask walks near a banner showing precautions against the new coronavirus in Goyang, South Korea, on Friday. (Lee Jin-man/AP photo via Courthouse News)

(CN) — Three months after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, the number of new infections reported each day is climbing as the deadly virus attacks people in poorer parts of the world.

“We are very much on the upswing of this pandemic in many countries, particularly in the global south,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, the head of emergencies at WHO, during a briefing Friday at the agency’s Geneva headquarters.

Since May 27, more than 100,000 new cases worldwide of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, have been reported each day. The number of new cases is climbing to more than 135,000 each day, according to tracking by Worldometer. Globally, more than 7.5 million people have tested positive for the virus and more than 423,000 deaths have been linked to it.

On March 12, the WHO declared the virus a pandemic, causing financial markets to collapse, economies to tumble into recession and upending billions of lives as country after country imposed lockdowns and shut down society to contain the spread of the virus.

The declaration of a pandemic also unleashed what many are calling a new Cold War as the United States and China, already engaged in a trade war before the pandemic, try to come out ahead of their rival in this global crisis.

The virus emerged in China in December, but the authoritarian Chinese regime managed to suppress the virus before it got out of hand. So far, China has reported 4,638 virus-related deaths and about 84,200 infections, making the country where the virus began paradoxically one of the least affected. China continues to be wary of a resurgence and this week a few new cases in Beijing led to a delay in schools reopening.

When the pandemic was declared in March, the virus was ravaging Iran and Europe. Soon Europe found itself in an epoch battle that many political leaders called the continent’s greatest challenge since World War II. Since March, the virus has killed more than 180,000 people across Europe, including Russia and other eastern countries.

By the middle of May, Europe had the virus mostly under control and life is slowly returning to normal with sporting events returning and bars, restaurants and city streets once again swelling with people – though most are wearing masks now. However, the virus continues to batter the United Kingdom, where more than 41,500 people have died, the most in Europe. The U.K. continues to report more than 1,000 new cases a day, by far the most in Europe.

Shortly after Europe was shocked to find itself besieged by the virus, the United States discovered its own outbreaks. So far, more than 116,000 people have died in the U.S. and more than 2 million people have been found infected. The U.S. remains a hot spot with more than 19,000 new infections reported each day.

Russia too was hard hit and continues to report more than 8,000 new infections a day, bringing its total infected population to more than a half million. But Russia’s death toll is low at about 6,700, likely in part due to the way it is counting who dies from the virus.

By the end of April, the microbe had begun a ferocious attack on South and Central America and it continues to wreak havoc in many countries in the Americas. So far, more than 72,700 people have died in countries south of the United States, according to a tracker kept by Johns Hopkins University. Brazil is the hardest hit country with nearly 41,000 dead and more than 800,000 reported infections.

Most recently, India has become the new hot spot with reports that hospitals are overwhelmed. About 8,890 deaths have been reported in India and about 310,000 cases. It is now reporting more than 10,000 new cases a day.

As the pandemic accelerates in poorer regions of the world, the WHO’s director-general pleaded Friday for more cooperation and unity in the fight against the pandemic.

“We’re truly concerned, actually, because the world is divided,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“The world has never seen anything like this since the flu in 1918, which is more than 100 years ago,” he said, referring to the Spanish flu that killed up to 50 million people. “This is a very dangerous virus and it’s very hard to fight this kind of virus in a divided world.”

Efforts to contain the virus are being hampered by political leaders – at the moment, those in the United States, Brazil and Mexico – downplaying the threat of the virus and pushing economies to keep ticking.

Tedros said bringing the pandemic under control by the end of this year or “anytime soon” will be “difficult in a divided world.”

“That’s why, from day one, we’ve been calling for national unity and global solidarity,” he said.

Tedros said cooperation is needed to limit the economic damage caused by the virus, which he said is even worse than the health crisis.

“It is something that is causing serious damage to lives and livelihoods, and this has to stop,” he said. “We see its impact on health, or on lives, but it’s impact on livelihoods is even more serious.”

He said “an invisible but a very small virus” causing so much havoc “should be a humbling moment” for “any nation weak or strong, poor or rich.”

“So that’s why we’re saying enough is enough,” he said. “Our fear is, as we have said, although it’s declining in Europe it’s increasing in other parts of the world. And even Europe cannot be safe because the virus can be reintroduced even into Europe. No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

Ryan, the WHO emergencies chief, warned some countries that lifted lockdowns “are having difficulties in exiting” and are “seeing increases in cases again.”

To avoid the need to reimpose severe lockdowns, he said countries need to be able to quickly understand where and why new cases of infection are happening.

“That comes down to the granularity of your data,” he said. “Do you know where the virus is? Can you tell specifically where the virus is increasing or decreasing? Do you have that knowledge? And within that can you make an intervention at a geographic level that allows you to take increased measures without affecting the whole population?”

Achieving that kind of targeted approach comes down to having the ability “to test, track and trace” the virus and know how “it’s spreading through communities,” he said.

“It’s very easy for me to sit here and say that,” Ryan said. “That is very difficult to achieve in any circumstance. But it is the only way to sustain the next number of months while we wait for other interventions.”

He added: “We really hope we have an effective vaccine in time, but there are no guarantees. We have to learn to live with this virus, we have to find a balance of controlling this virus against the damage, economically and socially, of controlling this virus.”