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WHO says stemming outbreak may require ‘sacrifice for many, many people’

A waiter prepares to close a bar-restaurant on Piazza Navona in Rome on October 26, 2020, as the country faces a second wave of infections to the Covid-19 (the novel coronavirus).

Tiziana Fabi | AFP | Getty Images

The World Health Organization warned Monday that some countries may need to shut down their non-essential businesses again as a way to take the “heat” out of their worsening coronavirus outbreaks.

WHO officials said they are still hopeful most countries won’t need to impose nationwide lockdowns that were imposed by some world leaders earlier in the year as a way to slow the spread of the virus. But as Covid-19 cases now accelerate across the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in the United States and Europe, some countries may need to impose those stricter mitigation measures again, the agency said.

“We’re well behind this virus,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said during a press conference at the agency’s Geneva headquarters. “We will have to get ahead of this virus and [that] may require sacrifice for many, many people in terms of their personal lives.”

“It may require shutting down and restricting movement and having stay-at-home orders in order to take the heat out of this phase of the pandemic,” he added.

Outside of the U.S., at least seven countries, four of them in Europe, reported record highs in average daily new cases on Sunday, according to a CNBC analysis of data of Johns Hopkins University. When adjusting for population, the number of new infections in Europe has overtaken those in the United States, with Europe reporting 324 new Covid-19 cases per 1 million people, based on a seven-day average, compared with 209 new Covid-19 cases per 1 million people in the U.S.

Overall, Europe, which includes 27 European Union countries and the U.K., is seeing nearly 168,000 new cases per day.

In the U.S., cases are also accelerating. As of Sunday, the U.S. has reported an average of about 68,767 new cases every day, the highest seven-day average recorded yet, according to Hopkins data. The U.S. reported 60,789 new Covid cases Sunday after daily cases reached 83,757 on Friday, passing the last record of roughly 77,300 cases seen on July 16, Hopkins data shows. Hospitalizations and the rate of tests that are positive are also on the rise.

In August, the WHO said that young people had become the primary drivers of the spread of the virus in many countries. But WHO officials said Monday that they are seeing the outbreak begin to “leak” into more vulnerable populations and older age groups. “We are seeing a creeping up in the average age,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead, said at the conference.

The WHO told world leaders that they cannot “have the economic recovery “they want and “live our lives the way we did before” the pandemic. “A pandemic is not a political football. Wishful thinking or deliberate diversion will not prevent transmissions or save lives,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The agency also criticized some countries for not investing in mitigation efforts during the first wave of the pandemic.

“When we look across Europe as a whole, you could certainly ask yourself the question of whether there was enough invested through the first wave, and ensuring there were full and adequate resources in each of those critical areas,” Ryan said.

“We are seeing a large number of cases, we are seeing widespread disease, we are seeing very, very high positivity rates and an increasing lack of capacity to do any effective form of contact tracing,” he added.

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