The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the global death toll from COVID-19 could more than double to two million before a successful vaccine is widely used – and could be even higher without concerted action to curb the pandemic.
“Unless we do it all, (two million deaths) … is not only imaginable but sadly very likely,” Mike Ryan, head of the UN agency’s emergencies programme, told a briefing on Friday.
The number of confirmed deaths some nine months since the new coronavirus was detected in China is currently at 988,965. Overall, more than 32.5 million infections have been registered, while almost 22.5 million people have recovered.
“One million is a terrible number and we need to reflect on that before we start considering a second million,” Ryan told reporters when asked how high the death toll could go. “Are we prepared collectively to do what it takes to avoid that number? “If we don’t take those actions … yes, we will be looking at that number and sadly much higher.”
With the pandemic showing no signs of slowing, Ryan said “we are not out of the woods anywhere” and stressed young people should not be blamed for a recent increase in infections after the easing of restrictions and lockdowns around the world.
Rather, indoor gatherings of people of all ages were driving the rise in case, he said.
The WHO warning came as cases in the United States, the hardest-hit nation in the world, crossed the seven-million mark – more than a fifth of the global total despite accounting for only four percent of the world population.
Global vaccine effort
Meanwhile, officials said the health agency is continuing talks with China about its possible involvement in the COVAX financing scheme designed to guarantee fast and equitable access globally to COVID-19 vaccines, a week after the deadline for committing passed.
“We’re in discussions with China about the role they may play as we go forward,” said Bruce Aylward, WHO senior adviser and head of the ACT-Accelerator programme to back vaccines, treatments and diagnostics against COVID-19.
He confirmed that Taiwan has signed up to the scheme, even though it is not a WHO member, bringing the total to 159 participants. Some 34 countries are still deciding.
Talks with China also include discussion of the world’s second-largest economy potentially supplying vaccines to the scheme, he said.
The UN agency published on Friday draft criteria for the assessment of emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines to help guide drugmakers as vaccine trials reach advanced stages, said WHO Assistant Director-General Mariangela Simao.
The document will be available for public comment until October 8, she said.
Earlier on Friday, a Chinese health official said the WHO had given its support for the country to start administering experimental coronavirus vaccines to people even while clinical trials were still under way.