Coronavirus: 1 million cases of COVID-19 recorded, 51,000 dead

There have now been 1 million cases of coronavirus COVID-19 recorded across the world.

The milestone was hit at about 7:05am on Friday, according to the Worldometers website, which collects data from official government communication channels and media reports.

Of those infected patients, 738,000 currently have the illness, which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, while 210,000 have recovered and 51,000 have died.

The United States contributes more than a fifth of the worldwide cases, with 235,000 sick individuals. This is followed by Italy and Spain, both reporting more than 110,000 cases. Germany has 84,000 cases while China, where the virus originated, has 81,000.

While many countries have introduced stringent restrictions on movement and the operation of businesses in response to the outbreak, case numbers and deaths are expected to continue to rise. The United States, for example, has recorded 5600 deaths but is expected to see at least 100,000.

Speaking on Thursday, World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was "deeply concerned" about the "rapid escalation" and "global spread" of the virus

"Over the past 5 weeks, we have witnessed a near exponential growth in the number of new COVID-19 cases, reaching almost every country, territory and area."

While data on Worldometers and other sites charting the virus' spread accurately reflects what governments are reporting, there have been allegations that some nations are under-reporting the number of cases and deaths. 

China saw its numbers rocket in January and February before plateauing in March, which it put down to its intensive physical distancing and lockdown measures. However, in mid-Feburary it also began not counting asymptomatic cases, of which there are tens of thousands, and citizens started reporting seeing large numbers of urns around the country disproportionate to the number of recorded deaths. The Middle Kingdom has also been condemned for not taking the outbreak seriously when it was first reported by a doctor in December.

Further abroad, Italy hasn't been reporting some deaths in resthomes as the victims haven't been tested or hospitalised, Iranians believe their government hasn't been upfront with its numbers, while North Korea, the highly-secretive state which borders China, claims to have no cases of the illness. 

There's also thought that officals don't fully understand the scale of the outbreak. This is because many aren't getting tested as they are either asymptomatic or only have mild symptoms which are being confused with symptoms of other illnesses or common colds. Research has shown that people who have experienced a loss of smell could be hidden carriers of COVID-19 as they don't meet the criteria in most countries to be tested.

Experts suggest that strict testing criteria, such as requiring someone to have symptoms as well as a link to overseas travel or a confirmed case, may mean those who pick up the illness in the community are being missed.

Such concern prompted the New Zealand Government earlier this week to expand criteria to allow anyone with symptoms to be tested in the hope this would provide a better idea of the scope of community transmission in the nation. But some have warned authorities they must go further by doing random tests at hospitals or on the streets.

New Zealand currently has 797 cases of COVID-19, with one death.

What we know about the coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) was first notified of cases of the virus SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) in Wuhan, China on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread via human-to-human transmission. It causes the coronavirus COVID-19 illness.

The virus is primarily spread through droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs, however, it can also be contracted by touching surfaces where the illness is present. The length of time the virus stays alive on surfaces isn't fully understood, but some studies have suggested that on some materials it could be for days.

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness.

How can I protect myself? 

  • avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands
  • washing your hands before eating
  • carrying a hand sanitiser at all times
  • being particularly mindful of touching your face
  • carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)
  • regularly cleaning and sanitise commonly used surfaces and items, such as phones and keys
  • avoiding close contact with people suffering from or showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection
  • seeking medical attention if you feel unwell.