WHO says the coronavirus is killing about 50,000 people a week: ‘That is not where we want to be’

Family members in personal protective equipment (PPE) kits along with other relatives bury a person who died of Covid-19, at Jadid Qabristan Ahle – Islam graveyard, near ITO, on September 12, 2020 in New Delhi.
Mayank Makhija | NurPhoto | Getty Images

The World Health Organization warned Friday 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,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, said of Covid-19 deaths during a press 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 Northern Hemisphere as it enters its 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, WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said Thursday in a press briefing. 

In the U.S., health officials are reporting 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 Hopkins data, an increase from eight states at the same time last week. 

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. 

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,” Kerkhove said.

Kerkhove said it’s “absolutely critical” for countries to have a strong plan for when outbreak arise. 

“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.”

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