World

Coronavirus infections worldwide surpass five million

Latin America hardest hit in recent weeks as WHO reports record number of daily cases globally

WASHINGTON : The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday that more than 106,000 virus cases had been reported - the most in a single day since the outbreak erupted in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

The total number of infections has now surpassed five million with Latin America overtaking the United States and Europe in the past week to report the largest portion of new daily cases globally.

The UN body's chief, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he was "very concerned" about the situation in low- and middle-income nations.

Brazil has been hardest hit, logging the third-highest number of cases in the world.

Peru, Mexico and Chile have also seen steady increases in infections.

Health officials in Brazil reported 1,179 deaths in a single day, although far-right President Jair Bolsonaro remains bitterly opposed to lockdowns, having described them as unnecessary over a "little flu".

With the outbreak in the world's sixth-largest country expected to accelerate until early next month, Mr Bolsonaro has refused to accept experts' advice, pressing regional governors to end stay-at-home measures.

And like US President Donald Trump, he has promoted the use of anti-malaria drugs against the virus despite studies showing they have no benefit and could have dangerous side effects.

The WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan stressed: "Hydroxychloroquine nor chloroquine have been, as yet, found to be effective in the treatment of Covid-19, or in the prophylaxis against coming down with the disease."

The two drugs are among those in WHO-coordinated clinical trials to find effective treatments for the disease.

Some 3,000 patients are taking part in the trials in 320 hospitals across 17 countries.

"As WHO, we would advise that for Covid-19, that these drugs be reserved for use within such trials," said Dr Ryan.

With a global death toll of more than 325,000, governments around the world are desperately hoping for a vaccine that would allow them to dispense with the lockdowns that have hammered their economies.

HOPE

There was encouraging news on that front on Wednesday, as experiments on monkeys offered hope that humans can develop immunity to the virus.

Researchers reported progress from one study that looked at a prototype vaccine, and another on whether infection with Covid-19 confers protection against re-exposure.

"We demonstrate in rhesus macaques that prototype vaccines protected against sars-CoV-2 infection and that sars-CoV-2 infection protected against re-exposure," said senior author Dan Barouch of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston.

On demands by the US, Australia, Europe and others that a probe be conducted on the way WHO dealt with the pandemic, Dr Tedros said he was committed to accountability.

"I said it time and time again that WHO calls for accountability more than anyone," he said.

"It has to be done and when it's done, it has to be a comprehensive one." - AFP, REUTERS

WORLD