COVID-19 cases worldwide have surpassed 15 million, and nearly 620,000 deaths. On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged people everywhere to play a part in preventing further spread of the disease, warning that there will be no return to “the old normal”.
Most cases, or 10 million, were in just 10 countries, with the United States, Brazil and India accounting for nearly half. On Thursday afternoon, the U.S. passed the milestone of four million infections.
“We’re asking everyone to treat the decisions about where they go, what they do, and who they meet with, as life-and-death decisions – because they are”, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking from Geneva.
“It may not be your life, but your choices could be the difference between life and death for someone you love, or for a complete stranger.”
Adjust to the ‘new normal’
COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of billions across the globe, and Tedros said it is understandable that people want to get on with their lives.
“But we will not be going back to the ‘old normal’. The pandemic has already changed the way we live our lives. Part of adjusting to the ‘new normal’ is finding ways to live our lives safely”, he advised.
In recent weeks, outbreaks associated with nightclubs and other places where people gather have been reported, even in locations where virus transmission has been suppressed.
“We must remember that most people are still susceptible to this virus. As long as it’s circulating, everyone is at risk”, said Tedros, adding, “just because cases might be at a low level where you live, that doesn’t make it safe to let down your guard.”
Tedros underlined that anyone, regardless of age or where they live, can help lead efforts to beat the pandemic and build back better.
“In recent years we’ve seen young people leading grassroots movements for climate change and racial equality. Now we need young people to start a global movement for health – for a world in which health is a human right, not a privilege”, he suggested.
10,000-plus African health workers infected
Separately, the UN health agency underscored the threat COVID-19 is posing to health workers in Africa, more than 10,000 of whom have been infected so far.
There have been more than 750,000 cases of the disease on the continent, with more than 15,000 deaths.
“The growth we are seeing in COVID-19 cases in Africa is placing an ever-greater strain on health services across the continent”, said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“This has very real consequences for the individuals who work in them, and there is no more sobering example of this, than the rising number of health worker infections.”
Globally, around 10 per cent of COVID-19 cases are among health professionals, though rates differ between individual countries.
Information on health worker infections in Africa is still limited, WHO said, though preliminary data reveals they comprise more than five per cent of cases in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
Factors that increase risk among these frontline personnel include inadequate access to personal protective equipment, and weak infection prevention and control measures.
“One infection among health workers is one too many”, said Dr. Moeti. “Doctors, nurses and other health professionals are our mothers, brothers and sisters. They are helping to save lives endangered by COVID-19. We must make sure that they have the equipment, skills and information they need to keep themselves, their patients and colleagues safe.”