WHO warns of a rise in Covid cases and deaths: ‘We’re all struggling’

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Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus takes part to a news conference after a meeting of the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee for Pneumonia due to the Novel Coronavirus 2019-nCoV in Geneva, Switzerland, January 22, 2020.
Christopher Black | WHO | Handout via REUTERS

The World Health Organization warned of a steady rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths in recent weeks, urging people Wednesday to stick with mask mandates and social distancing rules as the world enters a critical phase of the pandemic.

“We’re into our second year of the pandemic. There is a lot of frustration and fatigue out there wanting this pandemic to be over, but with transmission increasing, it’s going in the wrong direction,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, said during a Q&A at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva. “This is far from over. We’re not talking about a handful of cases here and there. We are still in the acute phase of the pandemic.”

Cases climbed by 14% across the globe last week — the sixth-consecutive weekly increase — and deaths jumped for the third week in a row, she said. Globally, there have been more than 128 million Covid-19 cases and 2.8 million deaths since the virus emerged a little over a year ago, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University.

The countries with the biggest jumps in transmission are India, the United States, Brazil, Turkey, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, Philippines, Germany and Iran, she said.

French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the country into its third national lockdown Wednesday and said schools would close for three weeks as the country tries to fend off a third wave of infections that threatens to overrun hospitals.

“We will lose control if we do not move now,” he said in a televised address to the nation.

The virus is “stronger, it’s faster” with the emergence of new variants that spread more easily and are more deadly than the original wild strain of the virus, said Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO’s emergencies program. “We’re all struggling” with and sick of restrictive lockdowns, he said.

“It’s a watershed moment in the pandemic, because at the very moment that we need to stay the course with all of this, we’re seeing the numbers start to rise and governments going back to restrictive measures,” he said.

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