GENEVA – The United States is rapidly becoming the new focal point of the growing coronavirus pandemic, with the number of confirmed cases there accelerating in recent days, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
“We’re now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the US. So it does have that potential” to become the global epicenter of Covid-19, the WHO’s spokeswoman, Dr. Margaret Harris, said at a press conference in Geneva.
The latest figures show nearly 335,000 confirmed cases worldwide and 14,652 deaths, but the spokeswoman warned that those figures will rise considerably when the WHO updates its figures in the coming hours.
The planet’s previous large-scale viral epidemic - the highly infectious Western African Ebola virus - lasted two years and caused a total of 11,000 deaths, while Covid-19 has already resulted in more fatalities even though it only has been circulating for three months.
WHO experts say that based on the curve of coronavirus infections and deaths the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases will be greater every day until governments take extremely forceful measures and those actions start to bear fruit.
Harris noted that Europe and the US accounted for 85 percent of all new confirmed cases worldwide over the past 24 hours and that 40 percent of those new cases came from the US, which now has nearly 50,000 cases.
President Donald Trump, concerned about the severe economic impact of Covid-19, has indicated he may ease the restrictions put in place by his administration to reduce its spread.
On Tuesday he tweeted, “Our people want to return to work. They will practice Social Distancing and all else, and Seniors will be watched over protectively & lovingly. We can do two things together. THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM! Congress MUST ACT NOW. We will come back strong!”
Harris, however, insisted that countries must take very aggressive measures to combat the coronavirus, particularly stressing the importance of carrying out comprehensive testing, isolating the sick and locating all immediate contacts so they can be placed in quarantine.
In the race against the coronavirus, diagnostic tests are a crucial element. But there is a wide disparity between those countries able to develop and validate their own tests and those that lack the technology to do so.
Harris said the 1.5 million tests the WHO has distributed worldwide have allowed many countries with limited resources to create a reserve and prepare themselves for the arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
While the number of confirmed cases grew at a faster clip between March 22 and March 23 (up 14 percent) than between March 21 and March 22 (up 10 percent), Italy was a bright spot.
The number of cases dropped between the 22nd and 23rd by 15 percent after having risen the day before by 10 percent.
Harris, however, cautioned that it is still too early to conclude that the number of cases in that European country will steadily decline and said it will take another three to five days to assess the situation.
Nearly 64,000 people have contracted the novel coronavirus in Italy, of whom 6,007 have died.
Scientists have recently determined the coronavirus’ incubation period with more precision, finding that it lasts between three and 12 days. A 14-day quarantine period therefore is recommended for those who have been in contact with one or more confirmed cases.