UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns coronavirus pandemic could set world’s economic progress back by ‘decades’.
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a stark warning on the spread of the coronavirus – calling the disease “public enemy number one” – as the number of cases around the world rose above 13 million.
More than half a million people have died from the disease in six and a half months, and the WHO chief said there would be no return to the “old normal” for the foreseeable future, especially if preventive measures were neglected.
“Let me be blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction; the virus remains public enemy number one,” he told a virtual briefing from the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.
“If basics are not followed, the only way this pandemic is going to go, it is going to get worse and worse and worse. But it does not have to be this way.”
The disease appears to be accelerating fastest in the Americas, which account for more than half the world’s cases and half the deaths.
Parts of the world, especially the United States with more than 3.3 million confirmed cases, are still seeing huge increases in a first wave of COVID-19 infections, while others “flatten the curve” and ease lockdowns.
Some places, including the Australian city of Melbourne and Leicester in England, are implementing a second round of shutdowns.
Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, albeit with a low 1,522 cases, is about to impose its strictest-ever social-distancing measures amid concerns about a recent jump in community transmission.
The US reported a daily global record of 69,070 new cases on July 10. In Brazil, 1.86 million people have tested positive, including President Jair Bolsonaro, and more than 72,000 people have died.
The US state of Florida reported a record increase of more than 15,000 new cases in 24 hours on Sunday, more than South Korea’s total since the disease was first identified at the end of last year. It counted another 12,624 new cases on Monday.
Coronavirus cases are rising in about 40 US states, according to a Reuters comparison of the past two weeks and the two weeks before that.
Despite the continued surge in cases, US President Donald Trump and White House officials continue to insist the disease is under control and that schools must reopen in the autumn.
“The president and his administration are messing with the health of our children,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on CNN’s State of the Union programme.
“We all want our children to go back to school, parents do and children do. But they must go back safely.”
WHO emergencies head Mike Ryan urged countries not to turn schools into “another political football”, saying they could safely reopen once the virus had been suppressed.
The leader of the Spanish region of Catalonia urged residents of an area of 160,000 people where cases have surged to stay at home, despite a judge’s ruling throwing out a mandatory lockdown.
Spain, which has been one of the European countries worst hit by the coronavirus, lifted nationwide confinement last month, when the pandemic seemed to have come under control.
After the first cases were reported in China late last year, it took about three months for the pandemic to reach one million cases. But it has taken just five days to climb to 13 million cases from 12 million.
Experts say official data probably underrepresents both infections and deaths.