Coronavirus: WHO issues sombre COVID-19 warning after global cases exceed 25 million

Countries grappling to contain their outbreaks of COVID-19 should not consider lessening restrictions on the public until the virus is under control, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned in a sombre message.

It follows the global case total surpassing 25 million on Sunday.

Speaking at a media briefing on Monday (local time), WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, acknowledged that people around the world were tiring of the stringent restrictions put in place to mitigate the effects of the eight-month-long pandemic. The spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has ravaged numerous countries, with more than 847,700 virus-related deaths worldwide. 

"We want to see children returning to school and people returning to workplaces, but we want to see it done safely," Tedros said, adding that the WHO fully supports efforts to reopen societies and kickstart economies - if the virus has been controlled.

"No country can just pretend the pandemic is over," he said. "The reality is this virus spreads easily. 

"Opening up without control is a recipe for disaster."

He noted that countries with a significant active spread of the virus must refrain from allowing mass gatherings too soon, as crowded events and large clusters of people are seen as conducive to "explosive outbreaks".

"Decisions about how and when to allow gatherings of people must be taken with a risk-based approach, in the local context," Tedros said.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo credit: Reuters

Global COVID-19 cases exceeded 25 million on Sunday, according to a Reuters tally, as India marked the biggest single-day jump in infections of any nation to date.

The epicentre of the disease has shifted once again, with India now taking centre stage from the United States and Latin America.

The country's single-day tally of 78,761 new infections on Sunday exceeded the one-day increase of 77,299 reported by the United States in mid-July, the surge bringing the global caseload to 25,074,751.

India, the world’s second-most populous country, is now third behind the United States and Brazil in total caseload - which have recorded more than 6 million and 3.8 million cases respectively - but has consistently outpaced both in new infections per day since August 7, according to the Reuters tally.

Despite the surging case numbers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been pushing for a return to normalcy to lessen the economic pain of the pandemic, having imposed a strict early lockdown of the country’s 1.3 billion people in March. The government announced on Saturday that it will reopen underground train networks - a lifeline for millions in the capital city of New Delhi - and allow sports and religious events in a limited manner from next month.

The official number of cases worldwide is now at least five times the number of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to WHO data.

The virus has killed more than 840,000 people worldwide, surpassing the upper range of 290,000 to 650,000 annual deaths linked to influenza.

While COVID-19’s trajectory still falls far short of the 1918 Spanish flu, which infected an estimated 500 million people, killing at least 10 percent of patients, experts worry the available data is underplaying the true impact of the pandemic. 

New Zealand has recorded 1387 confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date, which is the number reported to the WHO. As of Monday there are 131 active cases of the virus, 107 of which were detected in the community. The remaining 24 were found due to routine testing in managed isolation and quarantine facilities. 

The country has recorded 22 deaths caused by COVID-19.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand remains in "a strong position relative to the rest of the world", with our lower case numbers and strong public health system.

Comparatively, Ireland - which has a very similar population size to New Zealand - has recorded more than 28,800 confirmed cases of the virus, and has had more than 1770 deaths. 

Reuters / Newshub.