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WHO warns global COVID-19 pandemic 'growing exponentially'

WHO warns global COVID-19 pandemic 'growing exponentially'
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Top World Health Organization (WHO) officials on Monday warned against “complacency” in fighting COVID-19 amid a troubling spike in cases worldwide.

There were 4.4 million new cases recorded in the last week, said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, the seventh week in a row of increasing cases. That’s compared to about 500,000 cases per week a year ago. Deaths have been rising for four weeks.

“It is growing exponentially,” Van Kerkhove said of cases on a global basis.

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“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic where we have proven control measures,” she added. “It is time right now where everyone has to take stock and have a reality check about what we need to be doing.”

While vaccinations are rolling out and offer hope for gaining control of the pandemic, many countries, especially lower-income ones, have vaccinated only a small fraction of their population, amid a scramble for limited doses on a global scale.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on countries and individuals to maintain other precautions.

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“Physical distancing works,” he said. “Masks work. Hand hygiene works. Ventilation works. Surveillance, testing, contact tracing, isolation, supportive quarantine and compassionate care — they all work to stop infections and save lives.”

“But confusion, complacency and inconsistency in public health measures and their application are driving transmission and costing lives,” he added.

India and Brazil are receiving particular concern, given a rise in cases in India and a stark number of deaths in Brazil, with an outbreak fueled by a more contagious variant known as P.1.

Even amid more vaccinations than most other countries, the U.S. has seen a plateau of cases at a very high level, of more than 60,000 per day, and troubling spikes in some places, most of all Michigan.

“Vaccines and vaccinations are coming online, but they're not here yet in every part of the world where they need to be,” Van Kerkhove said.

The U.S. is under pressure from some experts to do more to provide vaccines to lower-income countries, given that if the virus is circulating anywhere in high numbers, it provides opportunities for new variants of the virus to develop.

The U.S. could, for example, donate more doses in its stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccines, which have not been approved yet in the U.S. but have been in other countries, and may never be needed in the U.S.

Tedros said he also met with African countries to try to increase vaccine production there.

“WHO does not want endless lockdowns,” Tedros stressed. “The countries that have done best have taken a tailored, measured, agile and evidence-based combination of measures.”