The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide will hit 1 million in the coming days and the death toll is expected to reach 50,000, according to the head of the World Health Organization (WHO).
"As we enter the fourth month since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am deeply concerned about the rapid escalation and global spread of infection," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, told a media briefing on Wednesday. "Over the past five weeks, we have witnessed a near exponential growth in the number of new cases, reaching almost every country, territory and area."
Since the COVID-19 epidemic started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, the new coronavirus has spread to every continent except Antarctica as shown in the Statista map below.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there are currently 937,783 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 47,261 people have died, and 194,330 are known to have recovered. Earlier this week, the U.S. overtook China to become the country with the most confirmed cases.
Ghebreyesus acknowledged that measures to stop the virus for which there is no treatment or cure from spreading "can have unintended consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable people." He called on governments to put in social welfare measures to ensure vulnerable people have access to food and "other life essentials during this crisis."
The WHO also addressed the ongoing debate over whether members of the public should wear protective face masks, which has prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to review its current position against the move.
"WHO recommends the use of medical masks for people who are sick and those caring for them," Ghebreyesus said.
"However, in these circumstances, masks are only effective when combined with other protective measures. WHO continues to gather all available evidence and continues to evaluate the potential use of masks more broadly to control COVID-19 transmission at the community level.
"This is still a very new virus, and we are learning all the time. As the pandemic evolves, so does the evidence, and so does our advice."
Appearing to offer some hope following his sombre forecast, Ghebreyesus said, "three months ago, we knew almost nothing about this virus. Collectively, we have learned an enormous amount. And every day, we learn more."
Referring to the WHO's multi-country clinical study for potential COVID-19 treatments, Ghebreyesus said, "There has been an extraordinary response to our call for countries to join the Solidarity trial, which is comparing four drugs and drug combinations."
A total of 74 countries are taking part or are in the process of joining, and more than 200 patients have been randomly assigned to one of the study arms, he said.
Mask and glove usage