The number of confirmed COVID-19 infections worldwide topped 40 million with 1.1 million deaths on Monday, as a second wave of the coronavirus hits European nations that had contained its spread earlier this year.
The infection rate has risen to 5,151 per 1 million people globally — up from 3,866 per 1 million when the 30 million mark was crossed on September 17 — with 27.5 million people recovered from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University and Google data trackers.
The figures from the trackers reflect only the number of cases that have been confirmed from testing and reported by governments. The true numbers likely are much higher since in many places testing has been limited, some governments underreport the number of cases, and many people experience no symptoms.
One of every five confirmed cases is in the United States, where 8.1 million people have been infected and 219,600 people have died of the virus. Newly reported U.S. infections topped 64,000 a day last week, as surging caseloads have led to higher infection levels in 44 states and the nation’s capital than a month ago.
New emergency measures and lockdowns were being imposed in and around the European continent, where France and Germany reported record daily spikes in COVID-19 cases.
The Swiss government announced on Sunday that mask wearing is now compulsory in all indoor and some outdoor areas of all 26 cantons, and group meetings will be limited. On Saturday, Paris and eight other French cities imposed an evening curfew on restaurants, bars, cinemas and other popular attractions.
“As the northern hemisphere winter approaches,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesuscases noted at a regular news briefing on Friday, “cases of COVID-19 are rising globally, especially in Europe where countries are expanding measures to contain it, and many people are understandably weary of the disruption the pandemic is causing to their lives and livelihoods.”
Tedros, at a regular news briefing earlier in the week, addressed the fringe view of allowing the virus to run its course to achieve herd immunity — which is what happens when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of that disease from person to person unlikely. He called this an unrealistic and “simply unethical” strategy for avoiding the economic pain of COVID-19 lockdowns.
“Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it,” he said.
WHO said it hopes to have sufficient data to see by the end of the year if any of the coronavirus vaccines being developed will be effective, but cautioned it probably will take up to two years to end the pandemic.
Letting #COVID19 spread through populations, of any age or health status, will lead to unnecessary infections, suffering and death. Without a widely available vaccine, herd immunity is a dangerous and counter-productive strategy for stopping the virus.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) October 16, 2020
‘Difficult months’ ahead
Just four nations had hit at least the 1 million mark — the United States, India, Brazil and Russia — and collectively accounted for 22.3 million cases, or 55 percent of global infections. Argentina, Colombia, France and Spain were not far behind them, each with well more than 900,000 cases.
India had 7.5 million cases and 114,600 deaths; Brazil, 5.2 million cases and more than 153,600 deaths; and Russia, 1.4 million cases and 24,000 deaths.
Doctors, scientists and health officials say COVID-19 affects different people differently.
Most infected people develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalization. The most common symptoms are fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath. Less common is a loss of smell, diarrhea and vomiting, and skin problems. Some people are contagious without having symptoms.
“Difficult months are ahead of us,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a weekly video broadcast. “How winter will be, how our Christmas will be — that will all be decided in these coming days and weeks, and it will be decided by our behavior.”