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Top WHO Epidemiologist Warns Coronavirus Pandemic 'Growing Exponentially' Around the World

"It is the time right now where everyone has to take stock and have a reality check of what we need to be doing."

Hindu devotees attend evening prayers after taking a holy dip in the waters of the River Ganges on the Shahi Snan (grand bath) on the occasion of the Maha Shivratri festival during the ongoing religious Kumbh Mela festival in Haridwar on March 11, 2021. (Photo: Prakash SINGH / AFP)

Hindu devotees attend evening prayers during the Maha Shivratri festival, part of the ongoing Kumbh Mela religious festival along the Ganges River in the city of Hardiwar, India on March 11, 2021. (Photo: Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images)

The World Health Organization's head epidemiologist on Monday warned that humanity has reached a "critical point" in the coronavirus pandemic, which despite increased vaccination is "growing exponentially" around the world.

"This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, where we have proven control measures. "
—Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO

"Last week, we had 4.4 million cases," said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the American epidemiologist who leads the WHO's emerging diseases unit, during a Geneva-based media briefing. Kerkhove said global coronavirus infections rose 9% last week, with deaths rising by 5%.

Kerkhove told the webinar that "it's the seventh week in a row" with at least 4.4 million new cases. 

"If you compare that to a year ago we had about 500,000 cases being reported per week," she said. "This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, where we have proven control measures. It is the time right now where everyone has to take stock and have a reality check of what we need to be doing."

"Vaccines and vaccinations are coming online, but they aren't here yet in every part of the world," Kerkhove continued. "There are a lot of concrete steps that are being made to increase vaccine capacities vaccine production and rolling vaccines out but right now, there are tools that we have; we have to be using them right now."

"We need governments to support individuals so that the control measures that are in place are applied consistently in a coherent manner," she added. 

Speaking at the same webinar Monday, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed that "the Covid-19 pandemic is a long way from over," while reaffirming ways people can lower their risk of coronavirus infection.

"Physical distancing works, masks work, hand hygiene works, ventilation works," he said. "Surveillance, testing, contact tracing, isolation, supportive quarantine, and compassionate care—they all work to stop infections and save lives."

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Tedros warned that "confusion, complacency, and inconsistency in public health measures and their application are driving transmission and costing lives."

"We too want to see societies and economies reopening, and travel and trade resuming," he said. "But right now, intensive care units in many countries are overflowing and people are dying—and it's totally avoidable."

With more than 168,000 new coronavirus infections reported Monday, India overtook Brazil as the second-worst infected country behind the United States, and accounting for one in six new infections globally, according to Reuters. The news came as at least hundreds of thousands of people flocked to bathe in the Ganges River for the Kumbh Mela religious festival in Haridwar in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand.

In the United States, coronavirus infections have risen 11% over the past two weeks, with 48,147 new cases and 296 deaths reported on April 11, according to the New York Times

Parts of Minnesota, the Texas panhandle, and especially Michigan are the latest U.S. Covid-19 "hot spots." On Monday, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said that Michigan—which just began reopening a few weeks ago—should "shut things down." 

Walensky's remarks came after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appealed to the federal government for more vaccine doses. Noting that it takes several weeks for vaccination to reduce caseloads, Walensky said that "if we try to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact."

According to Johns Hopkins University, 562,428 people have died of Covid-19 in the United States—nearly one-fifth of the global pandemic death toll of over 2.9 million.

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