Pandemic isn’t ending — it’s surging
Experts sound alarm as death toll nears 500K
A As restrictions are lifted around the world, the sense of urgency surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic has weakened. Hundreds of millions of students have returned to school; restaurants, bars and other businesses are slowly reopening in many countries. In parts of Europe, vaccine researchers worry that they will not have enough sick people for testing.
But this historic pandemic is not ending. It is surging. There were 136,000 new infections reported on Sunday, the highest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic. There are more than 7 million confirmed cases so far. The number of deaths is nearing half a million, with little sign of tapering off, and global health experts are continuing to sound the alarm.
“By no means is this over,” Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s executive director, said Wednesday. “If we look at the numbers over the last number of weeks, this pandemic is still evolving. It is still growing in many parts of the world.”
Latin America has emerged as a hot spot, currently accounting for almost half of global deaths by the
Financial Times’ tally. The problem is particularly acute in Brazil, where the central government has maintained a hands-off attitude to the outbreak even as cases surged to almost 750,000, but it has also hit countries, such as Peru, that took early steps against the virus.
Cases have surged in South Asia. WHO officials urged Pakistan to lock down after officials declared a record number of new cases in the past 24 hours. India is facing a new wave of infection; a top official in Delhi on Wednesday said that cases were expected to soar above 500,000 by the end of next month. Indonesia had its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases for a second consecutive day on Wednesday, with 1,241 new infections.
Across sub-saharan Africa, there are now more than 200,000 cases: There is widespread speculation that Pierre Nkurunziza, Burundi’s president, who died on Tuesday, was the first world leader to die of COVID-19, though Burundian officials have said the cause of death was cardiac arrest.
The scale of the coronavirus has made it hard to take in. “In the period of four months, it has devastated the world,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Tuesday. “And it isn’t over yet.”
Some nations that were devastated early in the pandemic look to be losing ground in their recovery. In Iran and the United States, two countries divided by geopolitical enmity, experts are united by fresh fears of a second wave; new cases in Iran have surged to record highs weeks after the country eased its lockdown.
Some Iranian officials have blamed increased testing, which in itself raises questions about the first outbreak’s extent. “We don’t know if it will be a second wave, a second peak or a continuing first wave in some countries,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told CNBC.
U.S. states are seeing an increasing number of patients since Memorial Day weekend, when many people socialized in groups in parts of the country, while there are new concerns that the anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis could add to a nationwide surge.
In the United States and elsewhere, the protests about injustice are partly fuelled by the racial disparities seen in the outbreak. Protesters have attempted to maintain social distance and use masks and hand sanitizer — but that has not always proved possible.
Almost all experts acknowledge that mass protests are a risk — just as the reopening of the economy seen in many nations around the world, including the United States, carries risks. “The facts suggest that the U.S. is not going to beat the coronavirus,” the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer write. “Collectively, we slowly seem to be giving up.”
That demoralized attitude is reflected at the top of American politics: It has been more than a month since the Trump administration held a daily coronavirus task force briefing.
But there are some reasons to be hopeful. A study by Britain’s Cambridge and Greenwich Universities released Wednesday suggested that widespread mask wearing could help prevent a second wave as damaging as the first. Vaccine trials are beginning and many hope that the ambitious, accelerated development timetables will produce results as soon as the end of the year.
But there is still much we don’t know and little reason to feel triumphant right now. “This microscopic virus has humbled all of us,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.
COLLECTIVELY, WE SLOWLY SEEM TO BE GIVING UP.
A firefighter sprays disinfectant to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Chennai, India. The country is facing a new wave of infection and a top official said that cases were expected to soar above 500,000 by the end of next month.