Pan­demic isn’t end­ing — it’s surg­ing

Ex­perts sound alarm as death toll nears 500K

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - ADAM TAY­LOR

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.

ARUN SANKAR/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

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.

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