The World Health Organization’s emergencies program chief said Friday that the new coronavirus probably could not be eliminated if current global conditions persisted.
“In the current situation, it is unlikely we can eradicate the virus," Dr. Mike Ryan said at the WHO’s regular coronavirus briefing in Geneva.
The world could “potentially avoid the worst of having second peaks and having to move backwards in terms of a lockdown” if surges in infections could be extinguished, he added.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus offered a word of optimism, saying examples around the world have shown that even if the COVID-19 pandemic is “very intense,” it can still be brought back under control.
But Tedros noted that global cases of infections worldwide had more than doubled in the last six weeks.
More than 12.3 million people had contracted COVID-19 worldwide by midafternoon Friday EDT, according to statistics from Johns Hopkins University.
Many public health experts believe, however, the number of infections is actually higher. They say cases go unreported for a variety of reasons, including testing shortages, the lack of transparency among some governments, and the attribution of COVID-19 deaths to related complications.
The U.S. remains the hardest-hit country, with about one-quarter of all confirmed infections and fatalities worldwide. As of Friday, 3.1 million people in the U.S. had contracted COVID-19 and nearly 134,000 had died of the disease, according to the Hopkins data.
The U.S. reported more than 64,000 new cases of the coronavirus Thursday, a record number, overwhelming intensive care units in hospitals in the country’s hard-hit West and South, including the states of Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, again warned that the pandemic was worsening in the U.S. because the country lacks a coherent strategy to contain the virus.
“As a country, when we compare ourselves to other countries, I don’t think you can say we are doing great — I mean, we’re just not,” Fauci said in an interview Thursday with FiveThirtyEight, a website focused on opinion poll analysis, politics and other news.
Fauci suggested on Wednesday that states struggling to combat the virus “should seriously look at shutting down,” despite state efforts to reopen in order to revive their economies.
Despite the surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S., President Donald Trump continues to push for the country’s schools to open in the coming weeks. Questions remain about how safe the openings will be for the children and school personnel.
While it is generally believed that the virus does not affect children as adversely as it does adults, children have contracted the disease, and some have died.
In Hong Kong, schools will be closed Monday, beginning the system’s summer vacation period a week sooner than planned. Schools had been closed earlier in the year because of the coronavirus outbreak but were gradually reopened in May. The new closing follows a spike in new COVID-19 cases, 34 on Thursday and 38 on Friday.
Transmission through air
Meanwhile, the WHO formally acknowledged Thursday that COVID-19 could be spread through the air in crowded, closed or poorly ventilated environments, after initially dismissing the possibility.
Australian and U.S. scientists — backed by more than 200 others — wrote this week that studies show “beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking and coughing in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in the air.”
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Friday called the situation in Lebanon “rapidly getting out of control.” The pandemic has exacerbated the worst economic crisis in Lebanon’s history, she said, and the country’s most vulnerable citizens “risk starvation as a result of this crisis.”
Bachelet called on the Lebanese government to implement “urgent reforms” to meet “the basic needs of the population.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted Friday that the decision to allow bars and other businesses to reopen might have been made “too soon.” His admission was made as the country’s health ministry reported 1,500 new cases, a record single-day high.