With the coronavirus pandemic reaching a global total of 10m cases, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a dangerous new phase in the crisis.
While many countries in western Europe and Asia have the virus under some degree of control, other regions of the world are now seeing the disease spread at an accelerating rate.
It took three months for the first one million people to become infected, but just eight days to clock up the most recent million.
And because these numbers only reflect who has tested positive, they’re likely to be “the tip of the iceberg”, according to one senior Latin American official.
Where are cases rising fast?
The graphs are moving in completely the wrong direction in parts of the Americas, south Asia and Africa.
The US, already recording the most infections and most deaths from Covid-19 anywhere in the world, is seeing further startling increases. The number of positive tests recorded in the past few days has reached a daily record total of 40,000, and it’s still climbing, fuelled by an explosion of clusters in Arizona, Texas and Florida.
This is not a “second wave” of infections. Instead, it’s a resurgence of the disease, often in states which decided to relax their lockdown restrictions, arguably too early.
Brazil, the second country after the US to pass 1m cases, is also experiencing dangerous rises. Its biggest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, are the hardest hit but many other areas of the country are doing little testing, and the real numbers are bound to be far higher.
Something similar is happening in India. It recently recorded its greatest number of new cases on a single day – 15,000. But because there’s relatively little testing in some of the most heavily populated states, the true scale of the crisis is inevitably larger.
Why is this happening? Deprived and crowded communities in developing countries are vulnerable. Coronavirus has become “a disease of poor people”, according to David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy for Covid-19.
When whole families are crammed into single-room homes, social distancing is impossible, and without running water, regular hand-washing isn’t easy. Where people have to earn a living day-by-day to survive, interactions on streets and in markets are unavoidable.
For indigenous groups in the Amazon rainforest and other remote areas, healthcare can be limited or even non-existent.
And the rate of infection itself is often worryingly high: of everyone tested in Mexico, just over half are turning out to be positive. That’s a far higher proportion than was found in hotspots like New York City or northern Italy even at their worst moments.
Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline medical staff are far more severe where budgets are small.
In Ecuador, where at one stage bodies were being dumped in the streets because the authorities could not cope, a key laboratory ran out of the chemicals needed to test for coronavirus.
And where economies are already weak, imposing a lockdown to curb the virus potentially carries far greater risks than in a developed nation.
Dr Nabarro says there is a still a chance to slow the spread of infections but only with urgent international support. “I don’t like giving a depressing message,” he says, “but I am worried about supplies and finance getting through to those who need them.”
Source : https://www.bbc.com/news/health-53210553