The World Health Organization warned Friday that the coronavirus is “not going away,” noting that it’s still killing about 50,000 people a week.
“That is not where we want to be,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said of Covid-19 deaths during a news conference at the agency’s Geneva headquarters. “It’s not where the Northern Hemisphere wants to be going into the winter season. It’s not where developing countries want to be with their health services under nine months of pressure.”
Ryan said the virus still has a “long way to burn.” WHO officials said they are beginning to see “worrying trends” in the number of Covid-19 cases, ICU admissions and hospitalizations in the Northern Hemisphere as it enters the colder seasons.
“It has not burned out, it is not burning out, it is not going away,” Ryan said, “and especially for those countries entering their winter season in terms of people coming together more indoors. There’s a lot of work to do in order to avoid amplification events, drive down transmission of this epidemic, protect the opening of schools, and protect the most vulnerable in our society from severe disease and death.”
European health officials have warned for weeks about a rising number of Covid-19 cases. More than half of European countries have reported a 10% or greater increase in cases in the past two weeks and, of those, seven have seen newly reported cases increase more than twofold, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, said Thursday in a news briefing.
In the U.S., health officials are reporting an average of about 39,000 new Covid-19 cases per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University data. Covid-19 cases were growing by 5% or more, based on a weekly average to smooth out daily reporting, in at least 34 states as well as Washington, D.C., as of Friday, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins data, an increase from eight states at the same time last week.
“The energy has not gone out of this pandemic. There’s a lot of energy left in this spring and this can drive the pandemic forward,” Ryan said.
U.S. health officials fear the outbreak could get worse as the nation enters the fall and winter seasons. Health officials have repeatedly warned that they are preparing to battle two bad viruses circulating later this year as the Covid-19 outbreak runs into flu season. Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said daily new cases were “unacceptably high” in the U.S. this close to the fall.
“Once you get the level of infection down really, really low, it almost self-propagates itself to stay low, but you’ve got to get it low,” Fauci told The Wall Street Journal’s “The Journal” podcast published on Thursday.
“Once it’s way up there it’s tough to get it down,” he said. Fauci said that number for the U.S. would be “hundreds of cases, thousands, but not 20, 30, 40 thousand cases a day.”
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the Covid-19 pandemic, noted Friday that global health officials have “literally hundreds” of seroepidemiology studies ongoing that examine the extent of coronavirus infection in different populations. The studies indicate that “a majority of the world’s population is susceptible to infection from this virus,” she said.
“That means the virus has a long way to go,” she said.
Van Kerkhove said it’s “absolutely critical” for countries to have a strong plan for when outbreaks arise. She told CNN’s “New Day” program earlier Friday that the rise in hospitalizations in some European countries, like the U.K. and France, are “worrying trends” because the Northern Hemisphere hasn’t “even started to hit the flu season yet,” which could add more strain to an already burdened health system.
“What’s really important right now is for countries in their response is that they break down the problem, they break down the outbreak into the lowest administrative level as possible as the data will allow,” she said. “It’s not just about case numbers. These are incredibly important and we need to be able to track these trends but we also need to look at hospitalizations, we need to look at ICU occupancy and how many people are being admitted into intensive care.”