WHO: Virus Infection Rate Nearing Highest Level of Pandemic

The World Health Organization is warning the coronavirus pandemic is worsening in many parts of the world amid a global shortage of vaccine doses.

Kashmiris wait in line to register themselves to test for Covid-19 in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, on Thursday, April 15. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

(CN) — The head of the World Health Organization warned Friday that the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating as infections soar around the world to nearly the highest levels so far recorded.

“Globally, the number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, during a news briefing at the agency’s Geneva headquarters. “This is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far during the pandemic.”

In its latest situation report, the WHO reported more 4.5 million new infections in a week, marking seven straight weeks of rising numbers. In the past week, 83,770 deaths were linked to the virus, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University.

These tragic figures show the pandemic is at a point nearly as bad as it was in January, which so far was the worst phase of global health crisis when more than 740,000 new infections and 14,460 deaths were reported on average a day, according to data collected by Worldometer. Globally, more than 3 million people have died.

India is now the country reporting the biggest surge in cases. On Thursday, it reported more than 216,000 new cases and 1,183 new deaths. Lockdowns are being imposed in cities, prompting a mass exodus of migrant workers to the countryside and that is raising fears the virus will spread even further.

The virus remains out of control in Brazil, where more than 3,000 deaths are reported each day on average. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s reckless handling of the pandemic and refusal to impose a national lockdown is blamed for Brazil’s catastrophe. About 366,000 people have died in Brazil from the virus, the second highest death toll in the world after the United States’ 579,000 deaths.

“Around the world, cases and deaths are continuing to increase at worrying rates,” Tedros said.

People wait in line to get a Covid-19 vaccine at a night club turned into a mass vaccination center in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday. (Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT News Agency via AP)

A serious spike in infections is being reported in Argentina, forcing the government to close schools in Buenos Aires, extend a nighttime curfew and order the military to help the struggling health care system. Argentina is getting hit by a more contagious strain that first emerged in Brazil.

“We are worried. The health care system is under pressure,” said Argentina’s Health Minister Carla Vizzotti. She said the country was facing a “critical moment.”

Efforts to rein in the virus are being hampered by a global shortage of vaccine doses and concerns over the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine, a centerpiece of the WHO’s global vaccine drive and also a key pillar in the European Union’s vaccine strategy. The vaccine has been linked to very rare blood clots and this has made a lot of Europeans wary to receive it. This week, Denmark said it was not going to use the vaccine.

On Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel received an AstraZeneca shot in a bid to boost confidence and convince others to take the vaccine. Nonetheless, this week the EU said it will pivot away from the AstraZeneca vaccine and set its sights on vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Europe is continuing to struggle to contain the pandemic and it is in a new wave of sickness caused by a more virulent strain of the virus that emerged in southern England.

This week, the number of deaths across Europe, including Russia and Ukraine, surpassed 1 million, according to WHO data.

“The situation in our region is serious,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe, at a news briefing. “1.6 million new cases are reported every week. That’s 9,500 every hour, 160 people every minute.”

But the vaccination of older people is paying off, he said. The number of Covid-19 patients over the age of 80 is declining and deaths among the elderly have fallen too.

Tedros said it was concerning that outbreaks are occurring in countries that had previously avoided widespread transmission.

“One of those countries is Papua New Guinea,” Tedros said. “Until the beginning of this year, Papua New Guinea had reported less than 900 cases, and just nine deaths. It has now reported more than 9,300 cases, and 82 deaths.”

He said there was large-scale community transmission in the capital Port Moresby and in the country’s Western Province. He said the AstraZeneca vaccine is being rolled out in Papua New Guinea to protect health workers.

“Papua New Guinea is a perfect example of why vaccine equity is so important,” Tedros said. “It has held Covid-19 at bay for so long, but with rising infections, understandable fatigue with social restrictions, low levels of immunity among the population, and a fragile health system, it’s vital that it receives more vaccines as soon as possible.”

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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