A protester places flowers on a cross during a demonstration against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and in honor of the dead of COVID-19 in which 1,000 crosses were placed in front of the National Congress in Brasilia, June 28, 2020.
Coronavirus deaths worldwide have exceeded 500,000 and infections have exceeded 10 million, two frightening reminders that the deadliest pandemic of the modern era is stronger than ever.
The milestone of infection is pushing back health experts and world leaders – including President Donald Trump – who had hoped at the start of the pandemic that the virus would go away with the heat of summer. Instead, infections are multiplying faster than ever.
It took four months after the first appearance of the pathogen in the Chinese city of Wuhan to reach 1 million infections. The spread of the coronavirus has steadily accelerated, cutting the delay to an additional one million cases every week now.
“This is a surprising figure,” said Richard Riggs, medical director of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, about the 10 million milestones. “It looks like it will continue for some time.”
The final milestone for cases can only be used as a relative marker, as the actual number is likely to be higher given the difficulty in tracking infections. The death toll is also sobering, and some health officials predict that 1 million may not be far away.
The World Health Organization has reported nearly 190,000 new cases for the 24-hour period until early Sunday, after managing director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this month that the pandemic had “entered a new dangerous phase ”.
The global epicenter of the coronavirus continues to shift. First it was China, then Europe, and now developing countries with weaker health systems like Brazil and India are shaken. Since the end of March, the United States has recorded the highest number of cases in the world and continues to add infections at a record daily rate. States like Texas, Arizona and Florida are overwhelmed, forced to overturn plans to open up their economies.
The United States and Brazil together account for 49 percent of all new infections, according to WHO data for the past 24 hours. Cases from the Americas represent 62% of the 189,077 new infections, followed by 13% in Southeast Asia and 8.8% in Europe.
Governments increasingly accept that there is no quick return to life as it did before the pandemic, as economies were hit by preventive measures that restricted movement of people and held back the consumption. People are still trying to resume a life that has been interrupted, but other foreclosure and social distancing measures may emerge.
“Going back to a lockout is a terrible option, but we have to be flexible,” said Caroline Buckee, associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “The question for policy makers is how willing they are to tolerate an increase.”
Although efforts to contain the virus have been successful in some areas, it is still unclear whether information obtained in the past six months significantly reduces complications and death rates, said Riggs. Recent breakthroughs, including treatment with remdesivir from Gilead Sciences Inc. and dexamethasone, a cheap steroid, can make the difference.
“I hope we have learned more about how to take care of these people,” he said.
A recent epidemic in Beijing reminds us that even places that have managed to control the virus cannot tame it indefinitely. Other regions, from Tokyo to Seoul and Australia, in the state of Victoria, are also seeing cases go up. The best hope lies in the development of a vaccine, which is unlikely to be ready this year despite a worldwide race to find an effective vaccine.
At the start of the epidemic, officials in the northern hemisphere stressed the possibility that the virus might disappear in summer, with people outside and not nearby. These hopes have been dashed.
“It doesn’t seem like the weather is having a significant impact right now,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States this month. He previously noted that warm weather tends to slow down lung infections.
The situation could worsen in the fall. The United States and other northern countries will need to prepare for an influenza season that will be complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which will add more stress to already strained health systems.
“We have not seen the end of COVID-19, and we have not yet seen its full scope,” said Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics science at the University of Washington in Seattle . “It will be as dangerous as the Spanish flu in many ways,” he said, referring to the 1918 pandemic that infected around 500 million people.
© 2020 Bloomberg LP