New York nurse
Katherine Ramos, right, with her 4-year-old daughter Victoria Ramos at their home in Patterson, N.Y. Ramos is one of an army of health care workers that heeded New York's call for help reinforcing hospitals overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic. Ramos, of Cape Coral, Florida, is staying with her family in Patterson while she works as a nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: With the world hurtling towards 1 million COVID-19 cases, the coronavirus continues to ravage some countries, while in others, despite the high death toll, the rate of infections is showing a downward trend.

Nearly 50,000 people have died of coronavirus with the US, Italy, Spain and France bearing the brunt over the past few days.

In the US the number of deaths is continuing to rise, with the toll in New York itself doubling in the past 72 hours to 1,900. However, in Spain, despite more than 800 people dying in 24 hours, on a day-to-day basis the rate of new infections is showing a downward trend. In Italy too, data from this week suggests a slowdown of growth in total cases, though its national health institute says official death toll could be underestimated.

And in China, there were fewer new infections.

US deaths spiral

Over the past few days the number of deaths in the US has spiralled and US President Donald Trump said he was considering a plan to halt domestic flights to coronavirus hot spots inside the United States. The Pentagon is looking to provide up to 100,000 body bags for use by civilian authorities.

As we enter the fourth month since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am deeply concerned about the rapid escalation and global spread of infection.

- Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General

The White House has previously said deaths could reach 240,000. The United States has reported 213,000 confirmed cases, more than 20 per cent of cases globally. Their death toll stands at 5,119.

Canada’s death toll jumped by 35 per cent in less than a day and Quebec said it was running low on key medical equipment.

In Europe, the three worst-affected countries - Italy (110,000), Spain (104,000) and Germany (78,000) - represent just under a third of the confirmed cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University figures. Their combined death tolls make up 44 per cent of fatalities worldwide. Three weeks into their lockdown fears grew in Italy over social unrest.

WHO raises concern

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, said there has been “a near exponential growth” in case numbers over the past five weeks, affecting practically every country, territory and area of the world. “As we enter the fourth month since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am deeply concerned about the rapid escalation and global spread of infection”, he said. “The number of deaths has more than doubled in the past week. In the next few days we will reach one million confirmed cases and 50,000 deaths.” The total number of cases on Thursday was just below 936,000 with more than 47,000 deaths, according to WHO, a United Nations agency.

Dwindling infections in China

China, where the coronavirus outbreak first emerged in December, reported dwindling new infections on Wednesday and disclosed for the first time the number of asymptomatic cases, which could complicate how trends in the outbreak are read.

Spain doctors
Health workers applaud as people react from their houses in support of the medical staff that are working on the COVID-19 virus outbreak at the Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Image Credit: AP

Asked about the distinction, Dr. Maria van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist who was part of an international team that went to China in February, said the WHO’s definition included laboratory-confirmed cases “regardless of the development of symptoms”.

“From data that we have seen from China in particular, we know that individuals who are identified, who are listed as asymptomatic, about 75 per cent of those actually go on to develop symptoms,” she said, describing them as having been in a “pre-symptomatic phase”. The new coronavirus causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

Solidarity trial

Meanwhile, 74 countries have responded to the WHO’s call to participate in a “Solidarity Trial” to compare four promising drugs or drug combinations, which might help treat COVID-19, and save the lives of those worst affected. More than 200 patients are taking part so far and have been randomly assigned to one of the study tracks. Tedros said “each new patient who joins the trial gets us one step closer to knowing which drugs work”. The trial was announced last Friday and aims to reduce the time needed to generate evidence about which medicines are safe and effective against the new virus. The UN health agency said it continues to work with governments and manufacturers to speed up production of protective equipment, including masks, for health workers on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.

- with inputs from agencies