COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating, WHO chief warns


“Many people are understandably fed up with being at home (and) countries are understandably eager to open up their societies.” But Tedros warned that measures like social distancing, mask wearing and hand-washing were still critical.

More than 8.53 million people have been reported infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 453,834​ have died, a Reuters tally shows.

WHO emergencies expert Mike Ryan drew attention to the situation in Brazil, where he said there had been 1230 additional COVID-19 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

About 12 per cent of infections in Brazil involved healthcare workers, he added, praising their bravery. Brazil has the world’s worst outbreak outside the US, with 978,142 confirmed cases and 47,748 deaths.

A suspected coronavirus patient is taken to an ambulance in Mexico City on Friday.

A suspected coronavirus patient is taken to an ambulance in Mexico City on Friday.Credit:Getty Images

‘Difficult journey’ to vaccine

With many nations easing restrictions but fearful of a second wave of infections, Ryan urged a gradual and scientific approach.

“Exiting lockdowns must be done carefully, in a step-wise manner, and must be driven by the data,” he said. “If you don’t know where it is, the chances are the virus will surprise you.”

Ryan said the resurgence of new clusters did not necessarily mean a second wave, while “second peaks” were also possible in one wave. The emergencies expert praised Germany, China and South Korea for their handling of the pandemic.

With trials under way around the world to find medicines and a vaccine for COVID-19, WHO officials warned that large-scale testing would be needed with side-effects carefully monitored.

“Although it is not impossible to find a vaccine … it’s going to be a very difficult journey,” Tedros said.

Virus was in wastewater in northern Italy before Christmas

A study by Italy’s National Institute of Health has found that the new coronavirus was in circulation in wastewater in the northern cities of Milan and Turin in December 2019, at least two months before the virus was confirmed to have spread locally in the population.

The study, released on Thursday, was based on 40 water samples collected as part of regular checks from sewage treatment plants in northern Italy from October 2019 to February 2020. It showed the virus that causes COVID-19 in December 18 samples from Milan and Turin, while earlier samples were negative.

“This research can contribute to understanding the beginning of the circulation of the virus in Italy,” the institute said in a statement.

The research has so far not linked any confirmed cases to the virus’ earlier presence, but researchers have proposed using the system to monitor the presence of the new coronavirus in water systems in a bid to help identify any possible new outbreaks.

A pilot monitoring system will launch next month in tourist destinations, in preparation for wider monitoring ahead of a possible new spike in contagion next autumn, the institute said.

New cases remain stable in China

New coronavirus cases remained stable in China’s capital on Friday, a day after a public health official declared Beijing’s latest outbreak under control.

Beijing recorded 25 new cases, up by just four from Thursday, out of a total of 32 cases reported nationwide.

Beijing has confirmed 183 new cases over the past week, but an official of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday that the daily numbers should begin to decline soon. Wu Zunyou said such outbreaks were inevitable, although this one was larger than expected because it spread from Beijing’s main wholesale market.

Classes in the city have been suspended and opening-up plans for everything from sports events to art exhibitions are on hold.

A worker disinfects a site where Beijing residents are being tested for COVID-19.

A worker disinfects a site where Beijing residents are being tested for COVID-19.Credit:Getty Images

China’s latest virus outbreak likely came from Europe

The WHO confirmed on Friday that the UN agency received genetic sequences from China involving Beijing’s recent coronavirus outbreak and said it appeared the virus was exported from Europe.

Michael Ryan noted that “strains and viruses have moved around the world” throughout the virus pandemic and said the fact that a virus from Europe sparked China’s latest outbreak did not mean the virus originated there.

“What it’s saying most likely is that the disease was probably imported from outside Beijing at some point,” Ryan said, adding that “establishing when that happened and how long the chain of transmission is, is important.” He said that many coronavirus strains spreading in New York could also be linked to Europe.

Ryan said that analysis of the genetic sequences China provided so far suggests that the virus spread from other people – and does not suggest that it jumped to humans from animals.

After the new coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December, officials hypothesised that it likely jumped into people from animals at a wildlife market, although the species responsible has never been identified.

“This coronavirus (in China’s latest outbreak) looks very much like it’s of human origin,” Ryan said, calling for a detailed investigation to determine how the imported cases sparked such a large cluster.

Virus spreads in South Korea

The coronavirus continues to spread in South Korea, particularly in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan region, which is home to half the country’s 51 million people.

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The Korea Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reported 49 new cases for the nation on Friday, with 26 of them in Seoul and the nearby port city of Incheon. South Korea has had a total of 12,306 infections, including 280 deaths.

Officials have been reporting around 30 to 50 new cases a day since late May, inspiring second guessing on whether officials were too quick to ease social distancing guidelines in April after the country’s first wave of infections waned.

Hundreds of cases in the Seoul area have been linked to leisure and religious activities and low-income workers who can’t afford to stay home.

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Reuters, AP

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