The coronavirus pandemic that’s spread to nearly every country in the world is picking up pace, the World Health Organization said, as global cases eclipsed 380,000 and deaths soared past 16,000.
The warning came as Italy on Monday recorded its smallest daily rise of coronavirus deaths in recent days.
It took 67 days from the first reported of Covid-19 to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000, and just 4 days for the third 100,000, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.
World health officials estimate more than 26 million health-care workers may end up treating COVID-19 patients.
On Friday, WHO officials warned the pandemic global outbreak could overwhelm health systems around the world in just a few weeks.
“Take one look at what’s happening in some health systems around the world. Look at the intensive care units completely overwhelmed. Doctors and nurses utterly exhausted,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, said Friday.
Government exercises, including one last year, made clear that the U.S. was not ready for a pandemic like the coronavirus. But little was done.
The outbreak of the respiratory virus began in China and was quickly spread around the world by air travelers, who ran high fevers. In the United States, it was first detected in Chicago, and 47 days later, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. By then it was too late: 110 million Americans were expected to become ill, leading to 7.7 million hospitalized and 586,000 dead.
That scenario, code-named “Crimson Contagion” and imagining an influenza pandemic, was simulated by the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services in a series of exercises that ran from last January to August.
The simulation’s sobering results — contained in a draft report dated October 2019 that has not previously been reported — drove home just how underfunded, under-prepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed.
The draft report, marked “not to be disclosed,” laid out in stark detail repeated cases of “confusion” in the exercise. Federal agencies jockeyed over who was in charge. State officials and hospitals struggled to figure out what kind of equipment was stockpiled or available. Cities and states went their own ways on school closings.
Many of the potentially deadly consequences of a failure to address the shortcomings are now playing out in all-too-real fashion across the country. And it was hardly the first warning for the nation’s leaders. Three times over the past four years the U.S. government, across two administrations, had grappled in depth with what a pandemic would look like, identifying likely shortcomings and in some cases recommending specific action.
The full story of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus is still playing out.
Dr Tedros said asking people to stay at home and other physical-distancing measures were an important way of slowing down the spread of the virus, but described them as “defensive measures that will not help us to win”.
He urged countries to adopt rigorous testing and contact-tracing strategies.
“To win, we need to attack the virus with aggressive and targeted tactics – testing every suspected case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case, and chasing and quarantining every close contact.”
The virus is transmitted through droplets, or little bits of liquid, mostly through sneezing or coughing.
WHO has said it is are aware of several studies in a number of countries looking at the different environmental conditions that COVID-19 can persist. Scientists are specifically looking at how humidity, temperature and ultraviolet lighting affects the disease as well as how long it lives on different surfaces, including steel, they said.
Last week, health officials said parents need to prepare their kids to guard against COVID-19 after a new study showed that babies and very young children can sometimes develop severe symptoms.
“What we need to prepare for is the possibility that children can also experience severe disease,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said on Wednesday.
Dr Tedros expressed alarm at reports from around the world of large numbers of infections among health workers, which appeared to be the result of a shortage of adequate personal protective equipment.
“Health workers can only do their jobs effectively when they can do their jobs safely,” he warned. “Even if we do everything else right, if we don’t prioritize protecting health workers many people will die because the health worker who could have saved their life is sick.”