WHO Director Says World Will Reach 1 Million Coronavirus Cases and 50,000 Deaths in the Next Few Days

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.

coronavirus, map, covid-19, countries, world
A graphic provided by Statista shows the global spread of the new coronavirus as of early March 27. More than 921,000 people have been afflicted, over 192,000 of whom have recovered and over 46,200 of whom have died.

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.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.
coronavirus, covid19, getty, kenya
A staff member of the Ministry of Health measures the temperature of drivers and passengers during the testing of the COVID-19 Coronavirus on the highway in Nakuru, Kenya, on March 31, 2020. - Kenya has so far recorded 50 cases of coronavirus, and one death. SULEIMAN MBATIAH/AFP via Getty Images