We must “side with science” the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned countries, as the global COVID-19 death toll passed 500,000.
Six months since the WHO first received reports of the coronavirus outbreak in China, the global health body called on governments to put politics aside and “side with public health and experience” in their responses to the crisis.
Fatalities have doubled in just under two months, with 50,000 deaths recorded in the last 10 days only.
The number of confirmed infections has passed the 10-million threshold.
“Six months ago none of us could have imagined how our world and our lives would be thrown into turmoil,” said WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who added that the virus has brought out the “best and the worst” of humanity.
“We should do everything we can using the tools we have at hand,” Dr Tedros added, explaining that waiting for a vaccine that might not become available should not be a sole strategy. He emphasised that people need to test, trace and isolate cases.
At the daily WHO briefing, in response to a question about hard-hit Brazil’s response the crisis, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the COVID-19 response, said: “This has nothing to do with politics but it’s the science.”
“I would like us to side on the side of science. Side on the side of public health and experience. We know what works, we’re not saying it’s easy, it will take more time, it will be difficult for individuals, communities and nations, but we are adapting and tailoring our approach based on what we are learning and we need people to be with us on this science.”
The US remains the most impacted country with almost 126,000 fatalities. It also accounts for a quarter of all cases worldwide. It is followed by Brazil, which has so far recorded 57,622 deaths and more than 1.3 million cases.
However, the global death toll is expected to be much higher as countries do not count fatalities the same way.
The grim milestone comes as health authorities warn that the pandemic has made a comeback in regions that appeared to have defeated the virus a few weeks ago.
Many are wondering if effective containment methods will work to contain the spread, but already new clusters in some countries have spread fears of a potential second wave.
The pandemic is having a devastating effect on some of the world’s poorest nations, the World Food Programme warned on Monday.
“The COVID-19 pandemic could almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger, pushing it to more than a quarter of a billion by the end of 2020”, the organisation said.
In India, migrant workers who fear going hungry after losing their jobs due to lockdown took to the highways by foot to return to their home villages. Many died from dehydration or in traffic accidents.
The country reported a record 20,000 new infections on Monday as several Indian states are reimposing partial or full lockdowns to stem the spread of the virus.
India remains the world’s fourth country per number of cases after the US, Brazil and Russia. The death toll is at over 16,000.
Russia reports nearly 7,000 new cases in 24 hours
Authorities in Russia said 6,791 new cases were registered on Sunday, bringing the total to over 634,000 cases.
The country has the third-highest number of infections in the world, of which more than a third are reported in Moscow, a city that recently lifted lockdown restrictions.
The death toll stands at 9,073, with 104 new fatalities reported on Sunday.
The number of deaths is much lower than what has been reported in other countries similarly affected, which has led to speculations figures may be manipulated – something Russia has denied.
Europe fears ‘resurgence’ as many ignore distancing
In Europe, authorities are worried the summer season and mass gatherings could undo the efforts made to stop the virus spread.
Last week, authorities across the UK complained about mass gatherings that occurred in Bournemouth, London and Liverpool.
In Liverpool, thousands of fans gathered to celebrate the club’s Premier League title win, ignoring social distancing and putting public safety at risk, a joint statement by the football team, Merseyside Police and Liverpool City Council read.
They deemed such behaviours as “wholly unacceptable”, and on Monday the club’s manager Jurgen Klopp wrote a letter to the fans urging them to celebrate in a responsible way.
Germany, one of the countries that had most successfully controlled the outbreak, reinstated lockdown in two districts of its most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, after 1,300 slaughterhouse workers tested positive for coronavirus.
It followed other recent outbreaks in Berlin, where 369 households were quarantined.
Other clusters were discovered in the states of Hesse and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania among members of religious communities and in retirement homes.
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Saturday that “the risk posed by the virus is still serious”.
“It’s easy to forget because Germany has got through the crisis well so far, but that doesn’t mean we are protected […] that is not the case, as is demonstrated by these regional outbreaks.”
Not too far away – in the Balkans – Croatia reimposed quarantine on travellers from Bosnia, Serbia, North Macedonia and Kosovo following a second wave of coronavirus in the region.
On the same day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned against a “significant resurgence” in COVID-19 cases in nearly a dozen countries in their Europe region.
The nations concerned are Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, North Macedonia, Sweden, and Ukraine.
Czech Republic is another worrying case. On Friday it recorded the highest number of daily infections in more than two months, following several new local outbreaks.
In Italy, the northern region of Lombardy, Europe’s first major cluster in the pandemic, remains a worrying hotspot, accounting for over half of the country’s 174 new cases reported on Sunday.
Positive signs keep coming from the south of the country, with eight regions reporting no new infections over the last 24 hours.
All-time record in US daily infections as southern states impose new restrictions
The pandemic is not loosening grip in the US, where the daily number of infections surged to an all-time high of 45,300 on Friday.
Over the past two weeks, newly reported cases per day have risen about 60% on average, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.
Texas closed all bars and Florida banned alcohol in such venues. They joined other states, especially in the South and the West, who are backtracking or putting on hold any further reopening of their economies.
The US remains the worst-affected nation for both number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths.
On Saturday, overall infections went over 2.5 million.
India has over 500,000 cases, South Korea struggles to contain new outbreak
India reported more than 18,000 new cases on Saturday and another 19,000 on Sunday, pushing the total over the half-million mark, the fourth-highest in the world globally after the US, Brazil and Russia.
This prompted the city of Gauhati, capital of Assam state, to announce a new two-week lockdown from Monday, with night curfews and weekend lockdowns in the rest of the state.
Another state currently battling against a second wave is South Korea, where new clusters were spotted outside the capital, Seoul.
Many infections were linked to nightspots, church gatherings, restaurants, door-to-door salespeople and warehouse employees.
Authorities have warned they may impose stricter social distancing measures.
South Africa and Egypt worst-hit countries in Africa’s growing epidemic
Africa’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 have climbed to a new high of more than 371,000, including 9,484 deaths, according to the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
South Africa accounts for over a third of the continent’s cases, and on Sunday it registered its highest single daily increase to date.
Egypt, despite having the highest death toll in the continent, over 2,700, has lifted many of its restrictions, reopening cafes, clubs, gyms and theatres after more than three months of lockdown. Authorities also allowed the reopening of mosques and churches.