By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 rose to 33.4 million on Tuesday, a day after the global death toll reached 1 million, as governments around the world moved to reimpose restrictions on movement in a fight to contain the spread.
Governments across Europe are grappling with rising infections, including in countries like Germany that appeared to have the crisis under control months ago, and some, including Italy, France and the U.K., are considering or have imposed new emergency measures. South America, parts of Asia and the Middle East are still counting thousands of new cases a day with no sign the virus’s spread is slowing, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, a global benchmark for tracking the virus.
Dr. Michael Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, said Monday the true toll from COVID-19 likely exceeds 1 million. Experts have cautioned that there are discrepancies between how data are collected and reported in different countries.
“When you count anything, you never count it perfectly,” Ryan told reporters at a press briefing in Geneva. “But I can assure you that the current numbers are likely an underestimate of the true toll of COVID.”
‘Responsible leadership matters. Science matters. Cooperation matters. And misinformation kills.’
António Guterres, United Nations secretary-general
The U.S., which accounts for just 4% of the world’s population, continues to lead in case numbers and fatalities, with 7.2 million confirmed cases and 205,091 deaths, a fifth of the global total. Experts have said the numbers would be lower if the U.S. had stuck with a consistent approach to the pandemic from the outset, and implemented the wide-scale testing, contact tracing and isolation of infected patients, quarantining, social distancing and face-mask wearing, that have proven effective in those places that have got the outbreak under control.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the challenge can be overcome, but the world must learn from its mistakes.
“Responsible leadership matters. Science matters. Cooperation matters — and misinformation kills,” he said in a statement on Monday. “As the relentless hunt for a vaccine continues — a vaccine that must be available and affordable to all — let’s do our part to save lives.”
Senior White House officials pressed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to play down the risks of sending children back to school, and sought alternate data that would show the pandemic was unlikely to harm them, according to a New York Times report published Tuesday.
Citing documents, as well as interviews with former and current officials, the newspaper report said the pressure on the nation’s leading public health agency came during the summer months, at a time when parental anxiety about sending children back into classrooms was nearing a peak.
One member of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff told the paper she was repeatedly asked by Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, to produce more reports and charts showing cases involving young people were declining. The aide, Olivia Troye, has since resigned.
Dr. Deborah Birx, lead coordinator of the White House task force created to manage the pandemic, pressured the CDC to include a document from a mental-health agency at the Department of Health and Human Services that said school closures would have a long-term effect on the mental health of school children and that those who were not showing symptoms were unlikely to cause spread, the report said.
It comes just hours before President Donald Trump is to debate his presidential rival, Democrat Joe Biden, with the pandemic expected to take center stage, ahead even of the scandal involving Trump’s tax record on which the New York Times reported over the weekend, with a second installment out Tuesday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, went on CNN late Monday and attempted to downplay differences with White House coronavirus task force colleague Dr. Scott Atlas, saying the real enemy remains COVID-19.
“The bad guy is the virus,” he said. “The bad guy is not the person on the other side of your opinion.”
Those comments came after an NBC report that CDC head Robert Redfield had been overheard during a phone conversation on a plane saying of Atlas: “Everything he says is false.” Atlas, a radiologist who has no infectious-disease experience, was added to the task force in August, after regular appearances on Fox News, where he shared views that aligned with those espoused by Trump.
Altas has pushed for states to reopen aggressively, played down the need for face masks and said children are not in danger from the virus. He has supported the development of herd immunity — which could kill millions of Americans. A number of members of the medical faculty at Stanford — where Atlas is a Hoover fellow — recently signed an open letter condemning Atlas, saying his comments run counter to scientific evidence and undermine public health efforts.