The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday warned that “the world is now at a critical juncture in the COVID-19 pandemic” and some countries are facing the prospect of health services collapsing under the strain.
“We are at a critical juncture in the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the Northern hemisphere,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference. “The next few months are going to be very tough and some countries are on a dangerous track.”
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) October 23, 2020
“We urge leaders to take immediate action, to prevent further unnecessary deaths, essential health services from collapsing and schools shutting again. As I said it in February and I’m repeating it today: This is not a drill.”
Tedros said too many countries were now seeing an exponential increase in infections, “and that is now leading to hospitals and intensive care units running close or above capacity — and we’re still only in October”.
Ghebreyesus said countries should take action to limit the spread of the virus quickly. Improving testing, tracing of contacts of those infected and isolation of those at risk of spreading the virus would enable countries to avoid mandatory lockdowns.
The WHO warning is significant in the backdrop of coronavirus cases doubling in the last 10 days across Europe, with several southern European countries reporting their highest daily case numbers this week.
Meanwhile, the United States recorded its biggest one-day rise in infections – more than 70,000 – since July on Thursday amid concerns of a “third wave” of COVID-19 gripping the worst-affected country in the world.
The novel coronavirus has infected nearly 42 million people and killed at least 1.1 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
The WHO has warned the co-circulation of the annual flu season in winter months and COVID-19 – both of which cause respiratory illness – could place an additional burden on vulnerable populations and healthcare systems that are already stretched because of the pandemic.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said the situation was “very worrying” in Europe, which clocked up more than half the new cases registered in the world over the last 24 hours.