WHO says pandemic 'far from over' as daily cases hit record high

Epidemic expert says 'comprehensive approach' is essential in South America

FILE PHOTO: Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
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New coronavirus cases on Monday had their biggest daily increase as the pandemic worsens globally and has yet to peak in Central America, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.

The UN body urged countries to press on with efforts to contains the virus.

“More than six months into the pandemic, this is not the time for any country to take its foot off the pedal,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online briefing.

More than 136,000 new cases were reported worldwide on Sunday, the most in a single day so far, Dr Tedros said.

Nearly 75 per cent of them were reported from 10 countries, mostly in the Americas and South Asia.

In response to a question on China, the WHO’s top emergencies expert, Dr Mike Ryan, said retrospective studies of how the outbreak has been addressed could wait.

“We need to focus now on what we are doing today to prevent second peaks,” Dr Ryan said.

He said infections in Central American countries including Guatemala were still on the rise, and that they were “complex” epidemics.

“I think this is a time of great concern,” Dr Ryan said, calling for strong government leadership and international support for the region.

Brazil is now one of the hotspots of the pandemic, with the second highest number of confirmed cases, behind only the US, and a death toll that last week passed Italy's.

After removing cumulative numbers for coronavirus deaths in Brazil from a national website, the Health Ministry sowed further confusion by releasing two contradictory sets of figures for the latest tally of infection cases and fatalities.

Dr Ryan said Brazil’s data had been “extremely detailed” so far but stressed it was important for Brazilians to understand where the virus is and how to manage risk, and that the WHO hoped communication would be “consistent and transparent”.

Maria van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said that a “comprehensive approach” was essential in South America.

More than 7 million people have been reported infected with the coronavirus globally and over 400,000 have died.

“This is far from over,” Dr van Kerkhove said.

At least half of Singapore’s newly discovered coronavirus cases show no symptoms, the co-head of the government’s virus taskforce said on Monday, reinforcing the city-state’s decision to ease lockdown restrictions very gradually.

Dr Van Kerkhove said that many countries doing contact tracing had identified asymptomatic cases but were not finding that they caused further spread of the virus.

“It is very rare," she said.

Dr Ryan also spoke about technical co-operation with the US after President Donald Trump’s announcement 10 days ago that it was terminating its relationship with the WHO.

He said the WHO relied heavily on experts from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

“We will continue to do that until we are otherwise instructed or informed,” Dr Ryan said.