Virus cases surge around the world: WHO

Health authorities say hospitals in Turkey and Poland are filling amid a surge in coronavirus infections as Pakistan restricts domestic travel.

The only exceptions to the deteriorating worldwide situation are countries that have advanced COVID-19 vaccination programs, mostly notably Israel and the UK.

Even the US – which is a vaccination leader globally – is recording a small up-tick in new cases and the White House said on Friday it would send federal help to Michigan, which has the country’s worst transmission rate.

The World Health Organisation said on Friday that it was concerned about infection rates that are rising in every region, driven by new virus variants and too many nations coming out of lockdown too soon.

“We’ve seen rises (in cases) worldwide for six weeks. And now, sadly, we are seeing rises in deaths for the last three weeks,” Margaret Harris, a WHO spokeswoman, said at a briefing in Geneva.

In its latest weekly epidemiological update, the WHO said more than 4 million COVID-19 cases were reported in the last week.

New deaths increased by 11 per cent compared to last week, with more than 71,000 reported.

The increasing infections, hospitalisations and deaths extend to countries where vaccinations are finally gaining momentum.

That leaves even bleaker prospects for much of the world, where large-scale vaccination programs remain a more distant prospect.

In Turkey, which is among the badly hit countries, most new cases of the virus can be traced to a variant first found in the UK.

Ismail Cinel, head of the Turkish Intensive Care Association, said the surge was beginning to strain the country’s relatively advanced health care system and “the alarm bells are ringing” for intensive care units, which are not yet at full capacity.

“The mutant form of the virus is causing more harm to the organs,” Cinel said. 

“While two out of 10 patients were dying previously, the number is now four out of 10. And if we continue this way, we will lose six.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan eased COVID-19 restrictions in early March to minimise pain to Turkey’s ailing economy. 

The new spike forced him to announce renewed restrictions, such as weekend lockdowns and the closure of cafes and restaurants during Ramadan, which starts on April 13.

The death toll in Iran is also rising, prompting new restrictions that will take effect for 10 days in 257 cities beginning on Saturday.

They involve the closure of all parks, restaurants, confectionaries, beauty salons, malls and bookstores.

Authorities in Pakistan, which is in the middle of a third surge of infections, are restricting inter-city transportation on weekends starting at midnight on Friday as part of measures aimed at limiting coronavirus cases and deaths.

Elsewhere in Asia, authorities in Thailand on Friday ordered new restrictions in an effort to contain a growing coronavirus outbreak just days before the country’s traditional Songkran New Year’s holiday, when millions of people travel.

Harris, from the WHO, said the world knows how to fight the surges.

She cited good news from the UK, where new coronavirus cases dropped 60 per cent in March amid a strong vaccination program, but said people had to continue with distancing measures and avoiding indoor crowded settings.

“We have to keep wearing the masks, even if vaccinated,” she said.

“People are misunderstanding, seeming to think that vaccination will stop transmission. That is not the case. We need to bring down the transmission while giving the vaccination the chance to stop the severe disease.

Vanessa Gera – Australian Associated Press

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