The outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus has grown to the point of necessitating a global response. The World Health Organization has been holding near-daily press conferences in the past weeks to keep the world’s media updated on the state of the disease.
While the growth rate seemed to taper off, there has been a spike in cases. This reinforced French Health Minister, Olivier Veran’s statement that a global COVID-19 pandemic is “both a working assumption and a credible risk.”
Former FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, has the same concern. He noted the number of cases in Japan doubling over four days, seemingly putting the country “on the cusp of a large outbreak and maybe epidemic growth.” He also made clear that “if you start to see this become an epidemic in other nations … [it’s] going to be extremely worrisome that we’re not going to control this globally.”
Another Spike in Cases
As of Tuesday, China reported to the WHO 1,800 new cases identified over the course of 24 hours. That brings the total number of cases in the country to 72,528. Outside of China, there’s a substantial increase with 110 new cases reported internationally in the same 24 hour period.
There’s a total of 92 cases across 12 countries, excluding China, in which the virus spread from human to human. This is a promising data point. It shows that there’s not any sustained human transmission excluding special circumstances like the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship.
A Deceptive Drop In Fatality Rates
Another promising piece of data is the dropping fatality rate. However, the WHO warns that the percentage may be deceptive. Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme Dr. Ryan notes initial stages of an outbreak tends to have biased data. Only severe cases were seeking medical treatment, thus skewing the statistics.
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus drives home Ryan’s point. Even though there are 804 cases outside of China, the fatality rate may still increase. Said Ryan “this is a window of opportunity that we shouldn’t squander. We need to have a balance of public health interventions and the development of the vaccine.”
Developing a Vaccine is Not Enough
Pharmaceutical companies worldwide are coming together to try to create a vaccine to combat COVID-19. This strain of coronavirus has no licensed vaccines or treatment available and developing one has become a medical priority. Several groups are looking to modify their treatments for the SARS coronavirus to create something functional as soon as possible.
Dr Sylvie Briand, Director of Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases Department for the WHO, notes that getting to human trials is at least 16 weeks away. Ryan stressed we “need to balance our investments because people are sick now and there are weak health systems now.”
The WHO is certainly being proactive in the interim. They are coordinating research efforts and data collection across the globe. They are also sending COVID-19 testing equipment to 40 countries in Africa and 29 countries in the Americas. Those nations do not have to outsource testing and can expedite prevention efforts. The WHO has also shipped personal protective equipment to 21 countries, and an additional 106 countries within a week’s time.
Hesitant to declare this a global health emergency at first, WHO is acting to contain and combat this disease. On a personal level, the best way to manage this outbreak is by maintaining vigilance and staying informed.