WHO warns first wave of pandemic not over

Updated 27 May 2020

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BANGKOK: As Brazil and India struggle with surging coronavirus cases, a top health expert is warning that the world is still in the very middle of the outbreak, dampening hopes for a speedy global economic rebound and renewed international travel.

"Right now, we’re not in the second wave. We’re right in the middle of the first wave globally,” said Dr Mike Ryan, the World Health Organisation’s executive director.

We’re still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up, Ryan said, pointing to South America, South Asia and other parts of the world.

India, with a population of over 1.3 billion, saw a record single-day jump in new cases for the seventh straight day. It reported 6,535 new infections on Tuesday, raising its total to over 145,000, including close to 4,200 deaths.

The virus has taken hold in some of the country’s poorest, most densely populated areas, underscoring the challenges authorities face in trying to contain a virus for which no vaccine or cure has yet to be developed.

Most of India’s cases are concentrated in the western states of Maharashtra, home to the financial hub of Mumbai, and Gujarat. Infections have also climbed in the east as migrant workers stranded by lockdowns returned to their native villages from India’s largest cities.

Despite this, India allowed domestic flights to resume on Monday following a two-month hiatus, but at a fraction of normal traffic levels.

In Brazil, where President Jair Bosonaro has raged against state and local leaders enforcing stay-at-home measures, WHO warned that before reopening the economy, authorities must have enough testing in place to control the spread of the virus.

Brazil has 375,000 coronavirus infections second only to the 1.6 million cases in the US and has counted over 23,000 deaths, but many fear Brazil’s true toll is much higher.

Ryan said Brazil’s intense transmission rates means it should keep some stay-at-home measures in place, regardless of the damage to the economy. You must continue to do everything you can, he said.

But Sao Paulo Gov. Joo Doria has ruled out a full lockdown in Brazils largest state economy and plans to start loosening restrictions on June 1. A US travel ban was set to take effect on Tuesday for foreigners coming from Brazil.

In Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the postponed military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the allied victory in the World War II will take place on June 24. Victory Day has become the most important holiday in Russia, marked every year on May 9 with a show of armed might in Red Square. Putin said the country has passed the peak of the outbreak.Meanwhile, seven public media outlets from the US, Europe, Canada, Japan and Australia said they will work to beat back the proliferation, particularly on social networks, of fake news” about Covid-19.

The broadcasters include France Mdias Monde, Deutsche Welle, the BBC World Service, NHK World, CBC Radio-Canada, ABC Australia and the US Agency for Global Media, whose networks include Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

Worldwide, the virus has infected 5.5 million people, killing about 350,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Europe has had about 170,000 deaths and the U.S. has seen nearly 100,000. Experts say the tally understates the true toll of the disaster.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2020