Global coronavirus infections topped 9 million on Monday as the World Health Organisation warned that the pandemic was accelerating.
Record levels of new daily Covid-19 cases are due to the fact that the outbreak is peaking in a number of big countries at the same time and reflect a change in the virus’ global activity, the WHO added.
At a media briefing on Monday, WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said that “the numbers are increasing because the epidemic is developing in a number of populous countries at the same time.”
Some countries have attributed their increased caseload to more testing, including India and the US. But Ryan dismissed that explanation.
“We do not believe this is a testing phenomenon,” he said, noting that numerous countries have also noted marked increases in hospital admissions and deaths – neither of which cannot be explained by increased testing.
“There definitely is a shift in that the virus is now very well established,” Ryan said. “The epidemic is now peaking or moving towards a peak in a number of large countries.” He added the situation was “definitely accelerating” in a number of countries, including the US and others in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
The WHO on Monday also called for a rapid increase in production of the steroid dexamethasone, which was shown to have life-saving potential for critically ill Covid-19 patients.
Researchers led by a team from the University of Oxford administered dexamethasone to more than 2,000 severely ill coronavirus patients hospitalised. Among those who could breathe only with the help of a ventilator, it reduced deaths by 35 per cent.
“Although the data are still preliminary, the recent finding that the steroid dexamethasone has life-saving potential for critically ill Covid-19 patients gave us a much-needed reason to celebrate,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference in Geneva.
“The next challenge is to increase production and rapidly and equitably distribute dexamethasone worldwide, focusing on where it is needed most.”
A low-dose steroid, dexamethasone has been on the market for over 60 years and usually serves to reduce inflammation. The WHO emphasised that dexamethasone should be used only for patients with severe or critical disease, under close clinical supervision.
Many countries continued to ease pandemic restrictions on Monday, despite the number of cases continuing to increase worldwide.
Saudi Arabia said it would allow a “very limited” number of pilgrims to the haj next month. Authorities on Monday said a haj involving only pilgrims already in the kingdom would be permitted. Last year, the annual ritual drew 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world.
France took its biggest step yet back to normality by allowing millions of children to return to school.
The relaxation of lockdowns in Europe came in stark contrast to concerns over the situation in Latin America, with Brazil now registering more than 50,000 deaths. The country is the second worst-affected nation behind the United States, where the number of deaths topped 120,000 on Monday and political infighting has prevented a unified policy.
Mexico, Peru and Chile are also coping with severe crises – Mexico City being forced to delay plans for a broad reopening of the economy as the country’s death toll raced past 20,000.
There are also fears of new clusters in Melbourne and Lisbon as well as renewed outbreaks in Beijing and other parts of Asia.
The spike in infections increased nervousness in global markets, which mostly fell on Monday on news of a worrying jump in fresh cases in several US states including California, Texas and Florida.