WHO warns against despair as world surpasses 20m cases

PARIS • The coronavirus pandemic chalked up another horrific milestone on Monday as the world surpassed 20 million recorded cases of infection from the tiny killer that has upended life just about everywhere.

The number as of 2215 GMT was 20,002,577 cases, with 733,842 deaths recorded, according to an AFP tally of official sources.

In yet another staggering landmark, the death toll is expected to surpass 750,000 in a matter of days as the global health crisis that began late last year in China rages on.

As more things once unthinkable became harsh reality — having to wear a face mask in touristy spots in Paris, or reserve a spot on Copacabana beach in Rio via an app and then social distance on the sand — the World Health Organisation (WHO) urged people not to despair.

“Behind these statistics is a great deal of pain and suffering…But I want to be clear: There are green shoots of hope,” WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (picture) said. “It’s never too late to turn the outbreak around.”

With much of the world caught in a cycle of dispiriting outbreaks and economically crushing lockdowns, all eyes are on the race for a vaccine.

A WHO overview said 165 candidate vaccines are being worked on around the world, with six reaching Phase 3 of clinical evaluation.

But the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan warned that a vaccine was “only part of the answer”, pointing to polio and measles as diseases with vaccines that have not been fully eradicated.

“You’ve got to be able to deliver that vaccine to a population that want and demand to have that vaccine,” he said.

Infections have been rising ominously in Western Europe, which has also been sweltering through a heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 35°C.

The blistering heat sent crowds flocking to beaches at the weekend despite health warnings about the risk of infection.

In the Paris region, people aged 11 and over are now required to wear masks in crowded areas and tourists hotspots. These include the banks of the Seine River and more than 100 streets in the French capital.

Marion, a 24-year-old in central Paris, said the masks are “restrictive” but necessary “if we want to avoid a second wave”.

“Anything except a second lockdown,” she added.

Several French towns and cities have already introduced similar measures, as well as parts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain. — AFP