Looking for the COVID-19 hotspots? Ignore the countries seeing virus resurgences

By | August 16, 2020

TORONTO — Resurgences of COVID-19 in countries thought to have beaten back the novel coronavirus have been highly publicized, but they’re small potatoes compared to what’s happening elsewhere.

The near-record daily case and death totals announced late Saturday by the World Health Organization (WHO) have much more to do with nations that never successfully fought off the virus to begin with – or are only now experiencing its wrath for the first time.

Seeming “second waves” or other worrying virus comebacks have been all over the news this week. New Zealand recorded its first case of community transmission in more than 100 days. South Korea reported its highest one-day infection total since March. Australia has enacted harsher measures in some parts of the country than it did even at the peak of the first wave.

Here’s the thing, though: Those three nations combined to record less than 0.2 per cent of all new COVID-19 cases in the world, according to the WHO’s numbers. Kenya reported more new cases on its own than those three did together. Guatemala reported twice as many. The Philippines reported more than 10 times as many. Even the 390 Canadian cases in the WHO’s report represent more than either New Zealand, South Korea or Australia had on their own.

There appears to be greater cause for concern about a second wave in Spain, where the country’s top virus expert warned that “transmission is increasing in every region” of the country. Even there, though, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals is a small fraction of what it was during the spring peak, and the 5,479 cases reported on Saturday only have Spain 10th on the global charts.

At the top of the list, as they have been for more than two months now, are India, Brazil and the United States. Those three nations alone made up more than 60 per cent of the 294,237 new COVID-19 infections logged by the WHO on Saturday.

India, which has become the usual daily leader in these statistics over the past two weeks, recorded 65,002 new cases, compared to 60,091 for Brazil and 52,799 for the U.S. The fourth country on the list, Colombia, reported 11,286 new cases.

India, Brazil and the U.S. are also responsible for more than half of all COVID-19 cases in the world since the pandemic began, according to an online tally from Johns Hopkins University.

‘EYE OF THE STORM’?

Although the overall virus situation continues to worsen in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific, most other regions have seen their share of the global caseload stay relatively steady over the past month. This has led to suggestions that there may be some sort of worldwide COVID-19 plateau happening.

Asked about that possibility at a press briefing on Thursday, WHO health emergencies chief Michael Ryan acknowledged that numbers have levelled off but warned against backing off on proven virus-fighting techniques.

“We may just be in the eye of the storm, and we don’t know it,” he said.

“Countries that have made progress, please retain that progress. You will lose that progress if you relent, if you become complacent.”

Ryan noted that, with approximately 21.5 million cases of COVID-19 confirmed globally, only “a very small proportion of the world’s population” has been exposed to the virus.

“This virus has a long way to burn, if we allow it,” he said.

Canadian public health authorities appear to have similar fears about anti-virus measures easing up too soon. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam used the same “slow burn” analogy on Friday when she released new modelling numbers that show the government preparing for a “peak” of virus activity this fall, followed by continued localized outbreaks until at least January 2022.

Canadians’ individual behaviours will play a large part in determining the severity of virus activity in Canada over the next year, Tam said – a message echoed by public health experts including Jason Kindrachuk, an emerging virus specialist and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

Speaking on CTV News Channel on Saturday, Kindrachuk said that every Canadian should stop thinking about returning to normal pre-pandemic activities and instead focus on doing as much as they can to prevent themselves from acquiring or transmitting the virus.

“All this virus knows how to do is transmit from person to person to person,” he said.

“As long as we give that spark enough fuel to start spreading, we know what’s going to happen.”

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