Global COVID-19 total tops 25 million amid WHO warning

Over the weekend, global COVID-19 cases topped 25 million, much of the activity fueled by steady, high daily cases in Americas countries and India, which yesterday reported the highest daily total of any country during the pandemic.

In other developments, the World Health Organization (WHO) today said it received support from the European Commission for the COVAX vaccine initiative and shared results of a new survey that showed widespread disruption of healthcare delivery.

The global COVID-19 total has risen to 25,330,679 cases, along with 848,030 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

WHO warns about complacency
At a WHO media briefing today, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said 8 months into the pandemic, it’s understandable that people are tired and want to get on with their lives and that countries want to reopen. He said the WHO wants the same thing and acknowledges the steps countries have taken to take pressure off their healthcare systems, which have taken a toll.

“At the same time, no country can just pretend the pandemic is over,” he said, adding that the virus spreads easily, can be fatal, and most people are still susceptible. “If countries are serious about opening up, they must be serious about suppressing transmission and saving lives.”

He said the WHO urges countries, communities, and people to take four key steps: prevent amplifying events, protect vulnerable people, take individual steps such as physical distancing and wearing masks, and find, isolate, and care for cases while tracing their contacts.

Tedros also said populations shouldn’t become numb to high death rates or minimize fatalities, because they occur in high-risk groups, such as older people, a way of thinking that he referred to as “a moral bankruptcy.”

European Commission joins COVAX

At today’s briefing, Tedros thanked the European Commission (EC) for its announcement today that it is joining the COVAX Facility and for its $470 million (€400 million) contribution.

The COVAX Facility pairs pooling the risk of supporting vaccine development with securing vaccine doses for countries equitably and at reasonable prices. Though the EC is joining COVAX, it’s not clear if it will use the tool to acquire vaccine doses; it recently signed its own contract with AstraZeneca for an initial 300 million doses for purchase by member states.

The deadline for countries to confirm their intent to join is today. Bruce Aylward, MD, MPH, senior advisor to the director-general, said sign-up progress looks encouraging and that the next deadline is Sep 18, when countries need to make financial commitments.

The program currently has nine candidate vaccines in its portfolio and has a goal of delivering at least 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI) recently said countries, groups, and individuals had committed $1.4 billion, but another $1 billion is urgently needed to move the vaccine portfolio forward.

Essential health services suffer
In another development, the WHO today released results from a survey on the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare systems, based on reports from 105 countries.

The report reveals that the pandemic has disrupted health services in 90% of countries, with low- and middle-income countries reporting the most difficulties.

Most countries reported that many routine and elective health services have been suspended, and critical care (high-risk) interruptions in services such as cancer screening and treatment and HIV therapy have been reported mainly in low-income countries.

The most frequently reported disruptions include routine immunization, noncommunicable disease diagnosis and treatment, family planning and contraception, mental health care, and cancer diagnosis and treatment. Emergency service disruptions were reported by 22% of countries.

In a statement, Tedros said the survey shines a light on cracks in health systems. “COVID-19 should be a lesson to all countries that health is not an ‘either-or’ equation. We must better prepare for emergencies but also keep investing in health systems that fully respond to people’s needs throughout the life course,” he said.

India approaches 80,000 daily cases
Yesterday, India reported 79,457 cases, the biggest 1-day rise of any country during the pandemic. The United States held the previous record, which occurred on Jul 17.

India, the world’s second most populous country, will soon pass Brazil to become the world’s second hardest-hit country, behind the United States. And yesterday, India passed Mexico to total the third most deaths, 64,469.

In another Indian development, the country’s former President Pranab Mukherjee, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, died in the hospital today at age 84 following septic shock following a lung infection, Reuters reported.

In other global COVID-19 headlines:
Ecuador reported an apparent reinfection, which was announced on Aug 29 by San Francisco de Quito University’s microbiology institute, El Universo SARS-CoV-2 genomes sequenced in May and August 81 days apart, from a 46-year-old man, revealed two different strains. He had milder symptoms during his initial illness. So far, eight similar cases in five countries have recently been reported, according to BNO News.

In Germany, people protesting the government’s COVID-19 restrictions on Aug 29 in Berlin tried to storm the parliament building, which drew condemnation across the country’s political parties, the BBC reported. Several hundred tried to storm the building, but the main protest, which drew about 38,000 people, was mainly peaceful.

New Zealand’s lockdown for Auckland ended today, following a flare-up linked to a family cluster, Reuters noted. The country’s president announced that masks are mandatory on public transport throughout the country, which reported nine new cases today, five of them related to the Auckland cluster. – Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy