The coronavirus pandemic is in a ‘new and dangerous phase,’ the World Health Organisation said today, as the virus continues to accelerate while lockdowns are eased.
Thursday’s 150,000 new cases is the highest so far in a single day and nearly half of them are in the Americas, the WHO said.
‘The world is in a new and dangerous phase,’ WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual briefing in Geneva. ‘The virus is still spreading fast, it is still deadly, and most people are still susceptible.’
Tedros, who has been under fire for spouting Beijing propaganda, urged people to maintain social distancing and ‘extreme vigilance.’
The world is in a new and dangerous phase,’ Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual briefing from WHO headquarters in Geneva. ‘The virus is still spreading fast, it is still deadly, and most people are still susceptible.’
As well as the Americas, a large number of new cases were coming from South Asia and the Middle East, Tedros added.
Yesterday the UN health agency stressed the importance of track and trace technology as ‘an essential element’ in preventing the spread of the disease.
Dr Hans Kluge, the European regional director, also said a second wave in the autumn was possible.
Speaking at a Russian-centred briefing on Thursday he said: ‘We have the seasonal influenza, there is the possibility of a seasonal effect on the virus – but we’re not sure yet – that then we will see a second wave.
‘So the lesson is that we have to implement what we know works – at the core of the strategy is to find as early as possible, isolate, test suspected people from Covid, and if needs be treat them without any stigma or discrimination.
‘At the same time (governments need) to track and quarantine contacts – contact tracing is an essential element of this strategy. But there is no single solution.’
His comments came a day after UK MPs were told the Government’s contact tracing smartphone app – previously heralded as a fundamental pillar of the country’s response to the pandemic – could be scrapped.
Dr Hans Kluge, European regional director of the World Health Organisation, said contact tracing and quarantining the potentially infected was ‘an essential element’ of the strategy
On Thursday, Downing Street made a dramatic U-turn over its delayed tracking app and scrapped its own model in favour of another which has been developed by tech giants Apple and Google.
Dr Kluge also said community engagement with lockdown rules was ‘crucial’ to help block the spread of infections, particularly with summer approaching when people may be more inclined to congregate together.
He added: ‘We are not out of the woods. Lockdowns and social distancing have gained us time.
‘Where we have opportunity we must grasp it to strengthen our preparedness and readiness – of our emergency services and our routine health system delivery.
‘That means hoping for the best but preparing for the worst: a likely resurgence of COVID-19, across countries, through regions, in towns and communities. As the popular saying goes, we count our chicks in the autumn, but this depends on how we act now.’
Dr Kluge warned that ‘alarm bells’ should be ringing for Europe, as covid-19 is still in an ‘active phase’ in many countries.
A resident of the Isle of Wight, UK, poses with his smartphone showing the newly released NHS Coronavirus contact tracing app in Ryde on May 8, 2020
He said: ‘Several countries continue to face increased incidence, while others are seeing an increase in numbers – such as North Macedonia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Israel.
‘In the past month the number of European countries showing significant increases in cumulative incidence has more than tripled, from 6 to 21 countries.
‘Covid-19 is still in an active phase in many countries. It is crucial that we continue to recover and rebuild normal life following lockdown, but it’s also really important that authorities fully invest in having an aggressive track, test and trace surveillance system to avoid costly additional lockdowns in the weeks and months ahead should the virus rebound.
‘A warning shot has been fired: school re-opening in a few countries have resulted in local ‘flares’ in the number of cases – we need to remain diligent and lift restrictions with care. I repeat: The risk remains high across ALL our Member States.’
On Wednesday, Lord Bethell, the minister responsible for the Government’s smartphone app, told MPs the much anticipated technology was not a priority – despite previous claims from Health Secretary Matt Hancock that it would be rolled out a month ago.
Lord Bethell told the Science and Technology Committee that a pilot of the app on the Isle of Wight had been successful, but also showed that people prefer human contact to technological approaches.
Speaking of the app, he said: ‘We’re seeking to get something going before the winter, but it isn’t the priority at the moment.’
He added that the Government was not feeling great time pressure over the app, and did not want to ‘poison the pool’ by rushing something out that is not ‘quite right’.