As the global death toll from the coronavirus nears 1 million people, the World Health Organization said Friday that it was "not impossible" to double that number unless countries work consistently to suppress the spread of the virus.
"It's certainly inconceivable, but it's not impossible because if we lose 1 million people in nine months and then just look at the realities of vaccine manufacturing for the next nine months, it is a huge task for everyone involved." Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's health emergencies program, said whether the coronavirus death toll could rise to 2 million people.
"The real question is: are we together ready to do whatever we can to avoid this number?" Said Ryan.
Since the coronavirus emerged from Wuhan, China late last year, it has infected more than 32 million people worldwide, killing at least 983,900 people on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The death rate from Covid-19 has slowly declined over the course of the pandemic as scientists and health professionals made advances in the treatment of critically ill patients, including better use of oxygen and the steroid dexamethasone, Ryan said during a press conference at WHO headquarters in Geneva.
However, there could be 2 million or more coronavirus deaths before a Covid-19 vaccine becomes widely available if world leaders fail to better implement life-saving measures and "develop the nature, scope and intensity of our collaboration," warned Ryan.
"The time to act is now for every single aspect of this strategic approach," said Ryan. "Not just testing and tracking, not just clinical care, not just social distancing, not just hygiene, not just masks, not just vaccines. Do everything. And if we don't do everything [2 million deaths], it's not just imaginable, but unfortunately and unfortunately very likely. "
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical manager on the Covid-19 pandemic, said several countries in Europe are reporting an "increasing trend in cases". That increase is partly due to better testing, but there has also been a "worrying" surge in Covid-19 hospital admissions and intensive care admissions, she said.
According to a CNBC analysis, coronavirus cases grew 5% or more compared to a week ago, based on a seven-day average, by reporting in France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, Ukraine and the United Kingdom to smooth out Hopkins data from Thursday.
"It's the end of September, not even the end of September, and we haven't even started our flu season yet," said Van Kerkhove. "What worries us is the possibility that these trends are going in the wrong direction."
The United Nations Health Organization is working to make Covid-19 vaccines available to populations around the world through the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility [COVAX]. The facility aims to work with vaccine manufacturers to protect the most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and healthcare workers.
As of Friday, 159 countries had committed to joining COVAX, but the final number could be "well over" 170 countries and economies, said Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior advisor to the director general.
The Trump administration previously stated that it has no plans to join the initiative. Aylward said WHO officials remain "in discussion" with China, which has also not joined.
"Whether another million people die from Covid-19 does not depend on whether we have a vaccine or not. It depends on whether we use the tools, approaches and knowledge we have today to live save and prevent transmission. " "Said Aylward.
"If we start thinking about it as a function of the vaccine, people will die unnecessarily and unacceptably while we wait for a vaccine," he said. "We shouldn't wait."