Covid-19 is highly likely to kill more than 2mn people without relentless global action to combat the disease, the World Health Organisation warned yesterday.
The Covid-19 respiratory disease is caused by the coronavirus.
As the 1mn death toll looms in a pandemic that has shaken the planet, the WHO said that the prospect of another million deaths is not unimaginable if countries and individuals do not come together to tackle the crisis.
“One million is a terrible number, and we need to reflect on that before we start considering a second million,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference, when asked by AFP if it was unthinkable that 2mnn people could die in the pandemic before a vaccine comes around.
But he added: “Are we prepared collectively to do what it takes to avoid that number?
“If we don’t take those actions ... yes, we will be looking at that number – and sadly much higher.
“Unless we do it all, the numbers you speak about are not only imaginable but unfortunately, and sadly, very likely.”
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 984,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
Nearly 32.3mn cases of the disease have been registered.
Ryan reflected on the challenges ahead in funding, producing and distributing any eventual vaccines against Covid-19.
“If we look at losing a million people in nine months and then we just look at the realities of getting a vaccine out there in the next nine months, it’s a big task for everyone involved,” he said.
Bruce Aylward, who heads the ACT-Accelerator – the WHO-led global collaboration to hunt for a vaccine and treatments – said that people would “unnecessarily and unacceptably die” if countries and individuals sit on their hands until a vaccine comes around.
“We should not be waiting,” he said.
Two million deaths “should be unimaginable. And it should not be a function of whether or not we have a vaccine. It’s a function of whether or not we, as individuals, do our part to prevent transmission of this disease”.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the ACT-Accelerator had a funding shortfall of $35bn – less than 1% of what G20 countries have committed to domestic economic stimulus packages.
“It’s roughly equivalent to what the world spends on cigarettes every two weeks,” he said. “In the context of arresting a global pandemic and supporting the global economic recovery, it’s a bargain.”
Asked about some leaders in the Americas betting everything on an eventual vaccine ending the pandemic instead of doing more to halt transmission, Tedros warned: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
“We have to invest in vaccines but at the same time let’s be very serious in using the tools we have at hand,” he said, insisting that “you can’t save people who are dying today by just praying or working only for vaccines that will come only later.”
Forty vaccine candidates are in the various stages of being tested on humans.
A further 149 are being developed in the lab.
However, nine in 10 vaccine candidates typically fail.
WHO figures showed Europe was on course yesterday to surpass the 66,277 number of daily cases record set last Saturday.
The UN health agency’s Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said that the surge in infections registered across several European countries was partly due to better surveillance.
However, “what is worrying to us is an increase in hospitalisation and an increase in bed occupancy”, she said.
In Europe, “we haven’t even started our flu season yet, so what we are worried about is the possibility that these trends are going in the wrong direction”.
The Spanish government has recommended reimposing a partial lockdown on all of Madrid city to curb the spread of coronavirus after local authorities imposed restrictions on just some areas of the wider region, the health minister said yesterday.
“These are the minimum measures we have to take to control the spread of the virus in the city,” Salvador Illa told reporters.
Spain, one of the countries in Europe worst-affected by the pandemic, was under a draconian lockdown from March until May in which people could not leave their homes.
But after restrictions were totally lifted on June 21, the pandemic has surged again.
Yesterday Spain’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 12,272 from the previous day to 716,481, the highest number in Western Europe, while more than 31,000 people have died from the disease.
Meanwhile, hundreds of restaurant and bar owners protested yesterday in the southern French city of Marseille against new shutdown orders to curb a surge in Covid-19 cases, warning the move could force them to close permanently.
Health Minister Olivier Veran announced the closures for Marseille and the surrounding region this week after contagion rates jumped, while nightspots in Paris and 10 other cities will have to shut by 1pm starting on Monday.
“We cannot allow ourselves to dither,” Veran told reporters in Marseille yesterday.
France’s public health agency said yesterday that Covid-19 infections were on the rise, and warned of several virus hotspots that pointed to a probable worsening of the situation in the weeks ahead.
New virus deaths rose by 25% last week, and cases among the elderly were also accelerating again, the agency said.
Moscow hospitals have been instructed to free up hundreds of beds for Covid-19 patients in response to a sharp acceleration in case numbers, four medical sources told Reuters, as the city’s mayor urged workers and the elderly to stay at home.
Dozens of hospitals in the Russian capital were designated as special coronavirus centres when the pandemic struck in March but returned to treating other patients as it ebbed over the summer.
Now some are reverting to Covid-only mode or partially reopening for Covid, the sources said.
“This is a really big second wave,” a medic at the Kommunarka hospital, one of Moscow’s main coronavirus centres, told Reuters.
After the highest number of coronavirus patients since the start of the outbreak were admitted to the hospital on Thursday, it was working at 120% of normal capacity, the source said.
Across Russia, officials reported 7,212 new infections yesterday, bringing the national case total to 1,136,048 – the fourth highest in the world behind the United States, India and Brazil.
In Moscow, new cases rose almost 50% overnight to 1,560 from 1,050 the previous day.
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