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Maryland Cremation Services transporter Morgan Dean-McMillan gently moves the remains of a coronavirus victim onto a stretcher in the morgue at Adventist HealthCare White Oak Medical Center in May, 2020 in Silver Spring, Maryland. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Absent Collective Action, WHO Warns Global Covid-19 Deaths Could Surpass Two Million Before Vaccine Is Ready

"The real question is: Are we prepared, collectively, to do what it takes to avoid that number?"

Lisa Newcomb, staff writer

If world leaders don't act to slow the spread of Covid-19, the global death toll from the virus could top two million before a successful vaccine is circulated, the World Health Organization warned Friday.

"It's certainly unimaginable, but it's not impossible," Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO's health emergencies program, said at a press briefing.

Worldwide, Johns Hopkins University reported 32,381,243 coronavirus cases and 985,104 deaths, as of Friday. In the United States number of Covid-19 infections has reached the seven million mark, and the U.S. body count exceeds 200,000. 

According to reporting from Axios Thursday, Covid-19 cases are on the rise in 22 states, with the U.S. averaging 43,000 new cases per day, a 16% increase over last week's numbers.

"There isn't one big event or sudden occurrence that explains this increase," reporters Sam Baker and Andrew Witherspoon wrote for Axios. "We simply have never done a very good job containing the virus, despite losing 200,000 lives in just the past six months, and this is what that persistent failure looks like."

European countries are also seeing a surge in Covid-19 cases, with the United Kingdom and France posting the most daily cases they've had since the start of the pandemic.

While world leaders continue to pin hopes on a coronavirus vaccine, the United States, China, and Russia have not signed on to a global effort, the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX), a program co-led by WHO "in which richer countries agree to buy into potential vaccines and help finance access for poorer ones," as Common Dreams reported Thursday. CNBC reported Friday that 159 countries have so far committed to the effort.

But, public health experts cautioned, a vaccine will not mean the end of Covid-19.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Today Friday, "When the vaccine comes, we look at it as an important tool to supplement the public health measures that we do." 

"It will allow us to more quickly and with less stringency to get back to some degree of normal but it is not going to eliminate the need to be prudent and careful with our public health measures," Fauci added.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior advisor to WHO's director-general, echoed the U.S.'s top infectious disease specialist Friday.

"Whether another million people die of Covid-19 is not a function of whether or not we have a vaccine," Aylward said, in reporting from CNBC. "It's a function of whether or not we put the tools, approaches, and knowledge we have today to work to save lives and prevent transmission."

Those tools include public health guidelines, which in the U.S. have been inconsistent. Watchdogs and lawmakers have accused President Donald Trump of influencing Centers for Disease Control recommendations regarding Covid-19, yet Trump gave himself an "A+" on his administration's pandemic response.

After deaths from coronavirus in the U.S. surpassed 200,000 this week, Trump falsely told a rally crowd, "It affects virtually nobody." 

Since the start of the pandemic, congressional lawmakers and government watchdogs have denounced the Trump administration's lack of coherent response to the pandemic, criticism that continued this week. Noting more Americans have died from Covid-19 than in the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Persian Gulf Wars combined, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted, "This grim milestone could have been avoided. Trump's failed leadership has cost lives."

At the WHO press breifing Friday, Ryan noted two million deaths from coronavirus is preventable, but only if global citizens take the measures public health officials recommend—like social distancing and mask-wearing—seriously.

"The real question is: Are we prepared, collectively, to do what it takes to avoid that number?" Ryan said

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