WASHINGTON (AN) — The global coronavirus pandemic reached a harrowing milestone on Thursday as infections surpassed 1 million and deaths exceeded 52,000, prompting governments to put half the world in lockdown amid economic collapse.
It was only on March 7 that the World Health Organization marked the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 exceeded 100 000. Four days later, WHO took the drastic step of declaring the novel coronavirus as a global pandemic — the worldwide spread of a new disease — marking the first time a coronavirus gained that distinction.
The head of WHO's European office, Dr. Hans Kluge, said on Thursday more than 95% of Europeans who died of COVID-19 were over 60 years old, but younger people should not be complacent since up to half of all people under 50 with the virus have moderate or severe cases.
“The very notion that COVID-19 only affects older people is factually wrong,” he told an online news conference in Copenhagen. “Severe cases of the disease have been seen in people in their teens or 20s, with many requiring intensive care and some unfortunately passing away."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC's "TODAY" show the United States, with 244,000 confirmed cases and 6,000 deaths, is getting hit as hard as Italy, which has 115,000 confirmed cases and almost 14,000 deaths.
"Right now the epicenter of it in the United States is New York City, but as you see it's not going to be confined to New York City," he said. "We're going see this kind of thing in other large cities. It's a very serious situation as was predicted. This is going to get worse before it gets better, for sure."
First detected in Wuhan, China in late December, COVID-19 is causing humanity’s worst crisis since World War II, according to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.
The number of confirmed cases worldwide surged to 1 million accompanied by 52,000 deaths, mostly in Europe, the United States, China and Iran, according to two separate Johns Hopkins University and Google data trackers. Italy, Spain, France, China and Iran have the most deaths.
A total of 210,000 people have recovered from the coronavirus, spread primarily through larger respiratory droplets, up to 1 millimeter across, that people expel when they sneeze and cough.
"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," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news 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," he said. "The number of deaths has more than doubled in the past week. In the next few days we will reach 1 million confirmed cases, and 50,000 deaths."