Pandemic may be over in two years

The world should be able to rein in the coronavirus pandemic in less than two years, the World Health Organization said, as the number of deaths from the disease surpassed 800,000 around the world yesterday.

Western Europe has been enduring the kind of infection levels not seen in many months, particularly in Germany, France, Spain and Italy — sparking fears of a full-fledged second wave.

The number of new infections in Germany topped 2,000 in the past 24 hours, a high not seen since the end of April, with authorities suggesting large numbers of returning tourists may be bringing the virus with them and other experts highlighting a big increase in testing.

South Korea yesterday announced it will ramp up restrictions across the country starting today to try and control a growing outbreak, with 332 new cases reported in the past 24 hours — the highest daily figure since early March. The latest deaths took the country’s tally to 309 with 17,002 cases.

The expanded measures include restrictions on gatherings and activities including professional sports, which will be played behind closed doors again, while beaches nationwide will close.

But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sought to draw favourable comparisons with the notorious flu pandemic of 1918.

“We have a disadvantage of globalisation, closeness, connectedness, but an advantage of better technology, so we hope to finish this pandemic before less than two years,” he told reporters on Friday.

By “utilising the available tools to the maximum and hoping that we can have additional tools like vaccines, I think we can finish it in a shorter time than the 1918 flu”, he said.

The WHO also recommended children over 12 years old now use masks in the same situations as adults as the use of face coverings increases to stop the virus spread.

With no usable vaccine yet available, the most prominent tool governments have at their disposal is to confine their populations or enforce social distancing.

In total, since the new coronavirus emerged in China late last year, 800,004 fatalities have been recorded globally, out of 23,003,079 declared infections.

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region the most affected with 254,897 deaths. More than half of global fatalities have been reported in four countries: the United States with 175,416, Brazil with 113,358, Mexico 59,610 and India 55,794.

The number of deaths has doubled since June 6, and 100,000 have been recorded in the last 17 days alone.

The Americas have borne the brunt of the virus in health terms, accounting for more than half of the world’s fatalities. Still, new daily cases of the coronavirus have been dropping sharply in the United States for weeks — but experts are unsure if Americans will have the discipline to bring the epidemic under control.

After exceeding 70,000 confirmed infections per day in July, the country recorded around 43,000 cases on Friday.

Further south, Latin American countries were counting the wider costs of the pandemic — the region not only suffering the most deaths, but also an expansion of criminal activity and rising poverty.

But the WHO said the coronavirus pandemic appeared to be stabilising in Brazil — one of the world’s worst hit countries — and any reversal of its rampant spread in the vast country would be “a success for the world”.

India reported a record daily jump of coronavirus infections yesterday, bringing the total near 3 million and piling pressure on authorities to curb huge gatherings as a major religious festival began.

The 69,878 new infections – the fourth straight day above 60,000 – take India’s total cases to 2.98 million.

In Thailand, authorities plan to extend its state of emergency till the end of September to stave off a potential second wave of coronavirus infections, despite not recording any local transmission for close to three months. Thailand so far has detected 3,390 infections, including an additional imported case reported on Friday. New outbreaks in erstwhile regional front runners like Vietnam and New Zealand have put Thai officials on their guard.

Meanwhile, the Nepal government yesterday decided to resume international flights from September 1. Earlier, the country had planned to resume the services from August 17, but it was extended till August 31 amid the resurgence of coronavirus cases.

The country has reported 30,483 COVID-19 cases so far, while 137 people have lost their lives and 18,214 have been recovered.


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