Coronavirus cases approaching the 400,000 mark

Clinical Trials & Research

Recent updates show a rapidly spiking incidence rate for the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 that has already affected well over 380,000 people the world over, killing well over 16,000 of them. In a bid to arrest viral spread in its tracks, shops and other establishments have stopped their physical operations, but deaths continue to increase. Moreover, economic indicators continue to plunge all over the world, prophesying a very tough time ahead in terms of financial health.

Infection rates soaring

The highest number of cases is flattening out in China, but Italy is showing an explosive increase in the number of cases, at present at about 64,000, with 6,000-plus deaths. The situation in Italy has been called heart-rending, as doctors struggle with their responsibilities to save patients amid the overwhelming influx of critically ill patients and the sheer lack of essential lifesaving equipment.

Spain is also fighting a rapidly rising infection rate, with well over 2,300 deaths so far. 87% of these deaths occurred in individuals over the age of 70 years old. The highest number of new deaths are occurring in Italy, the U.S., Spain, and France at present.

In the U.S., almost 16,000 new infections were reported over the last 48 hours, with over 580 deaths. A large number of these deaths were in New York, which has been the hardest hit with almost 23,200 cases, almost seven times more than the next highest total of 2,844 in New Jersey. However, while New York also reports the highest number of fatalities, at 183, the next most severely hit is Washington, with 111 deaths so far. Next to South Korea, with its 20,000 tests a day, New York has shown the highest frequency of testing, at 16,000 a day, though it has only half the population of the Southeast Asian state.

South Korea, which had at its peak over 900 new infections a day, is now showing signs of a successful fightback, with less than 100 new cases and few deaths. It is enforcing testing of all travelers from Europe and possibly America, in a bid to prevent the re-entry of infection, as happened in Hong Kong a few days earlier.

Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (green) cultured in the lab. Credit: NIAID-RML

Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (green) cultured in the lab. Credit: NIAID-RML

In the U.S.

In the U.S., many more young people have been infected than in other countries, amounting to over half of the cases in New York, for instance. One factor that could be implicated in this is the large number of youngsters in the U.S. who use e-cigarettes, or vape. Meanwhile, in California, which is among the worst-affected states, large crowds of people flooded parks, beaches, and hiking trails over the weekend, defying orders to stay at home. The state has recorded almost 2,200 cases, with 43 deaths so far.

Social distancing

Many countries have announced strict lockdowns in a delayed attempt to ensure that the virus spreads much slower, including the U.S. and Canada, Iran, France, Germany and Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and Brazil. More and more countries have sealed their borders. The world’s busiest international airport in Dubai has closed down all flights. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on March 23 that “2020 will be the toughest year of our lives,” announcing more stringent and more comprehensive social distancing measures.

In Germany, gatherings of more than two people are banned, even as there is a steep rise in the number of cases. In the U.S., the number is 10, while in Switzerland and Austria it is five or less, at 6.5 feet apart or more. The U.K. has now issued lockdown orders even as large numbers of people continued to visit public places despite the government’s ‘advice’ to stay home.  Both the number of cases and deaths in the U.K. continue to rise.

In India, with its massive population of well over 1 billion, a majority of states have announced a complete lockdown to limit the potential spread of the virus, especially in densely populated regions like Kerala and the heartland states. India has over 500 confirmed cases with ten deaths so far, and any hint of community spread would cause utter carnage, it is feared.

Looking for a cure

At the same time, the WHO is about to begin enrolment for its SOLIDARITY trial of four potential therapies for the virus that causes COVID-19. Many countries have expressed interest in joining the trial, and the multicentre trial that focuses only on the hospitalized, and therefore, those who are seriously sick will have thousands of patients enrolled, says WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan. Hopefully, this trial will be able to tell if any of the four drugs have a role to play in suppressing the current pandemic.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says, “Small, observational and non-randomized studies will not give us the answers we need. Using untested drugs without the right evidence could raise false hope and even do more harm than good and cause a shortage of essential drugs that are needed to treat other diseases.”

And the pandemic is only picking up steam, says Ghebreyesus, who traced its path over the last few months. He points out, “The pandemic is accelerating. It took 67 days from the 1st reported case to reach the first hundred thousand cases, 11 days for the second hundred thousand & just 4 days for the third hundred thousand”.

The hidden costs of COVID-19

Doctors are also dying of the virus, especially ENT and eye specialists, in Italy, France, and China. Twenty-three doctors have died in Italy alone. Thousands of other health professionals are also testing positive in various countries.

The Olympic Games scheduled to be held this summer in Tokyo may be postponed, as Canada and Australia have already signaled their intention not to participate even if it is held. At the same time, the International Olympic Committee deliberates on the fate of the Games.

Children are out of school and students out of college and university all around the world, as social distancing measures become more comprehensive in many countries. Low-security prisoners are being released to forestall massive prison coronavirus outbreaks.

It’s clear that the world is in for the long haul if the virus is to be contained successfully, and if the health and economic corners are to be turned.           

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