Six months after the World Health Organization (WHO) first identified a cluster of atypical pneumonia cases at a hospital in Wuhan, China, the number of people newly infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is rising rapidly.
More than 10 million people across the globe have tested positive for the coronavirus, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday, nearly 180,000 of whom tested positive in the last 24 hours.
Almost half a million people have died worldwide.
“The reality is this is not close to being over,” Tedros told reporters. “Globally, the pandemic is actually speeding up.”
About half the cases, and nearly half the deaths across the globe, have come in the Americas. The United States, which accounts for about 4 percent of the global population, has nearly a quarter of the total confirmed cases, 2.4 million.
States reported more than 44,000 new cases on Sunday, the WHO said in their daily situation report on Monday, higher than any nation on earth. Brazil reported 46,000 new infections on Saturday, and almost 39,000 new infections on Sunday.
Russia and India have both reported more than half a million cases, while the United Kingdom, Peru and Chile have each reported more than a quarter million cases.
The actual number of people who have been infected with the coronavirus is probably multiples higher than the numbers reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said last week that samples taken from blood tests in the United States show as many as 25 million Americans might already have been infected, ten times the number of confirmed cases.
But Tedros cautioned that even with such prevalent spread, billions of people are still at risk of infection.
“This virus still has a lot of room to move,” he said. “The virus is spreading aggressively.”
Tedros said the WHO would dispatch a team to Wuhan next week to investigate the potential animal source of the new coronavirus. The initial cluster of cases has been linked to a food market in the city, which serves as a major manufacturing and transportation hub, though the exact source of the initial infections is unknown.
He said the virus can still be contained and that robust contact tracing methods must be employed to identify and isolate those who are infected so they do not spread it further. He pointed to contact tracing work done in volatile eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an Ebola outbreak has formally ended after nearly two years.
If contact tracing can work in a war zone, he said, it can work in nations at peace, no matter the scope and scale of the outbreaks.
“For many of our countries to really not hunt down this virus is our failure in contact tracing, because we have lame excuses, saying it’s too many and it’s too difficult to trace,” Tedros said. “Trust me, there is not too many even in a world situation. If contact tracing helps you to win the fight, you do it, even risking your life.”