In just 12 days the world added a million confirmed COVID-19 cases, pushing the total to more than 4 million on Saturday led by a surge in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University and Google data trackers.
It was only on April 27 that the number of cases worldwide blew past the 3 million mark. Now, the United States has 1.3 million infections and 78,000 of the world's 270,000 deaths, the most of any country. The next highest caseloads are in Spain, Italy, the U.K. and Russia, each with more than 200,000.
The rate of infections is more than 500 confirmed cases for every 1 million people on the planet. Around 1.4 million people have recovered from the virus, but the threat of a second wave of infections looms.
Meantime, a growing number of governments and leaders are walking a dangerous tightrope between pushing to loosen lockdown restrictions that have devastated economies and cost millions of jobs or taking extra precautions to lessen the risk of more coronavirus outbreaks that raise the death toll.
"When we relax social distancing measures prematurely we risk a second wave," said Dr. Vincent Rakjumar, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and editor-in-chief of Blood Cancer Journal.
The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak as a global health emergency on January 30. After the number of cases exceeded 100,000, WHO classified it as a global pandemic on March 11, marking the first time that a coronavirus has gained the distinction of becoming a worldwide disease.
A vaccine and treatment for the virus, first detected in Wuhan, China late last year, would give people the best measure of safety for returning to a normal life. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top-ranking infectious disease expert, has estimated that it will take at least 12 to 18 months to develop a vaccine.
Global cooperation needed
The United Nations' health agency said it is tracking the progress of more than 120 proposed vaccines worldwide. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it has granted the first emergency use authorization to diagnostic healthcare company Quidel Corp. for the first COVID-19 antigen tests.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the eradication of smallpox 40 years ago showed what nations can do tackling a common health threat. But it took 184 years for smallpox, one of the world's most feared contagious diseases, to be eradicated after the vaccine was developed in 1796.
"Many of the basic public health tools that were used successfully then are the same tools that have been used to respond to Ebola, and to COVID-19: disease surveillance, case finding, contact tracing, and mass communication campaigns to inform affected populations," said Tedros, a politician and public health expert who headed Ethiopia’s foreign affairs and health ministries.
"But although a vaccine was crucial for ending smallpox, it was not enough on its own," he told a media briefing on Friday. "The decisive factor in the victory over smallpox was global solidarity."