GENEVA • The number of confirmed coronavirus cases is expected to surpass one million any day now, World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said. He also voiced deep concern about the near-exponential escalation of the pandemic.
The Covid-19 disease has now reached 205 countries and territories, with the number of deaths doubling in a week.
Mr Tedros on Wednesday also called on citizens around the globe to stand together to fight the coronavirus, as he braced himself for the millionth confirmed case.
"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," he told a virtual news conference.
"Over the past five weeks, we have witnessed a near-exponential growth in the number of new cases, reaching almost every country.
"The number of deaths has more than doubled in the past week. In the next few days we will reach one million confirmed cases and 50,000 deaths."
Since emerging in China in December, the coronavirus has spread across the globe, claiming more than 49,000 lives, and infecting more than 960,000 people.
In Europe alone, the pandemic has killed more than 30,000 people. Italy and Spain account for three in every four deaths on the continent.
The United States has seen fewer deaths - more than 5,100 as of yesterday - but has the world's biggest number of confirmed cases with over 215,000 people infected.
However, the virus is expected to gain a greater foothold in parts of the world that have not, so far, seen such large numbers of cases and deaths.
"While relatively lower numbers of confirmed cases have been reported from Africa, and from Central and South America, we realise that Covid-19 could have serious social, economic and political consequences for these regions," Mr Tedros warned.
"It is critical that we ensure these countries are well equipped to detect, test, isolate and treat Covid-19 cases, and identify contacts."
The WHO chief also urged governments to implement social welfare measures to ensure that vulnerable people have access to food during the crisis - and called for debt relief for the poorer states.
"Many developing countries will struggle to implement social welfare programmes of this nature," Mr Tedros said.
"For those countries, debt relief is essential to enable them to take care of their people and avoid economic collapse."
There were many "unknowns" about how Covid-19 will behave, as it is the "first-ever coronavirus pandemic in the world", he added.
A safe vaccine is thought to be 12 to 18 months away, while WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan stressed: "There is no therapy that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of Covid-19."
As for the use of face masks in preventing the disease, the WHO recommends that those people who are infected and health workers who care for them should use medical masks.
The question of whether healthy people should don masks in public has been a global hot topic in recent weeks, as theories emerge that mask-wearing in parts of Asia is the reason for fewer coronavirus cases in the region.
Experts have warned that the practice should not be seen as a "magic X factor" in preventing infection, instead crediting a range of public health measures implemented in those countries for the containment of the disease.