Despite vast improvements in countries such as China and South Korea, the World Health Organization said Tuesday the coronavirus outbreak is “far from over” in that region.
“This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard. We need every country to keep responding according to their local situation,” the WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, Dr. Takeshi Kasai, said at a briefing.
China reported one new death and 48 new cases Tuesday, none of them locally transmitted, while South Korea reported 125 new ones.
Kasai and experts at a separate WHO briefing stressed that governments need to be taking active measures and maintain pressure to halt the spread of the respiratory infection.
He said the WHO had no evidence that the rising temperatures of the coming hot season would slow down the virus, as some had hoped, and that there was no telling how much longer the pandemic would last.
Matthew Griffith, an epidemiologist advising the WHO on its response to the virus in the region, said he was concerned that any infection spikes to come were most likely to happen in the poorest countries. Laos and Myanmar reported their first COVID-19 cases only last week, although some health experts believe they may be missing many cases for a lack of testing.
Michael Ryan is the executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program. He said officials hope countries currently experiencing the worst effects, including Italy and Spain, will soon see their situations stabilize; but, he said the virus will not stop itself, requiring governments to act to “push down” the number of infections.
Coronavirus technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said those public efforts must include testing, isolation, finding contacts and quarantining those individuals.
Italy reported 837 more deaths Tuesday, bringing its total to 12,428, while Spain surpassed China in terms of overall cases. Only the United States has more cases than Italy and Spain.
Spain announced 849 new deaths Tuesday, the largest single-day increase since the pandemic began, boosting the country’s death toll to 8,189.
Ryan also cited the shortage of protective masks for health care workers, and reiterated WHO advice that generally healthy people should not wear them.
"There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit. In fact, there's some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly," he said.
U.S. states ask for help
The iconic Empire State Building in New York City lit up Monday night in the form of a red and white siren to honor emergency workers “on the front line of the fight.”
New York is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with more than 900 deaths as hospitals struggle to cope with the influx of patients.
New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo has made a nationwide appeal for more help, asking doctors and nurses in areas without an urgent coronavirus situation to travel to the area to help.
The pandemic turned personal for Governor Cuomo on Tuesday when he learned his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, has been diagnosed with the coronavirus and would continue to broadcast from his basement.
On the other side of the country, California Governor Gavin Newsom turned to retired doctors and nurses, as well as medical students, to boost the health care response. He announced Monday the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus infections had nearly tripled over the course of four days.
Overall, the number of U.S. cases topped 175,000 with more than 3,400 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. death toll surpassed China’s official tally of 3,305.
Worldwide there have been more than 823,000 confirmed cases, with more than 174,000 people already recovered.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday there were more than 5,000 cases on the continent. South Africa accounts for one in four cases, and its president announced plans to launch a door-to-door effort to screen and test people.
Tuesday also brought the latest rounds of travel bans and domestic lockdowns, including Indonesia banning entry to foreigners who do not have residence visas.
Japan urged its citizens not to travel to areas with ongoing outbreaks, issuing warnings for the United States, China and South Korea.
Vietnam planned to start a two-week nationwide lockdown on Wednesday and was telling people not to gather in groups of more than two people.
Hungary and Serbia are among a group of countries that are subject to growing concern that populist leaders are using the crisis to seize more authority and silence critics.
Human rights expert Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said, “A state of emergency, wherever it is declared and for whatever reason, must be proportionate to its aim, and only remain in place for as long as absolutely necessary.”
Zsombor Peter, in Kuala Lumpur, contributed to this report.