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WHO warns most people still at risk of coronavirus infection as mass gatherings resume worldwide

The World Health Organization said on Monday that most people across the globe are still at risk of coronavirus infection and that the biggest threat to further spread is complacency, as mass gatherings resume in countries worldwide. 

The coronavirus pandemic is worsening across the globe as the number of new Covid-19 cases on Sunday reached an all-time high, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference at the agency’s Geneva headquarters.

He said that almost 75% of the cases come from 10 countries, mostly in the Americas and South Asia. 

“I would say right now the epidemic in Central and South America is the most complex of all of the situations we’ve faced globally,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program. 

While the WHO is “encouraged” that some countries are beginning to see signs of improvement, research shows that most people are still susceptible to contracting Covid-19, Tedros said.

“In these countries, the biggest threat now is complacency,” he said. “We continue to urge active surveillance to ensure the virus does not rebound, especially as mass gatherings of all kinds are starting to resume in some countries.” 

WHO officials said that most countries in Africa are still experiencing an increase in Covid-19 cases. Ryan said health officials have had time to prepare for an outbreak because cases in Africa haven’t increased exponentially. 

“That’s not to say the disease cannot explode and that it cannot rise significantly in Africa and cause significant destruction and death,” he said. 

In the U.S., where the death of George Floyd in police custody has sparked outrage and protests have drawn massive crowds in cities nationwide, the WHO said it supports the global movement against racism but encouraged protesters to do so safely. 

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. have slowly started to pick up since the Memorial Day holiday, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Some public health and infectious disease experts have warned that recent mass gatherings in the country will likely lead to a second wave of Covid-19 infections this fall. 

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said it’s important entire populations remain engaged to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and protect people most vulnerable to serious illness. 

“The idea that we have an entire population engage, knowing what role each individual plays during this pandemic, is fundamental,” Kerkhove said. 

In late May, President Donald Trump announced that the United States will cut its ties with and end funding for the World Health Organization. He has repeatedly criticized the WHO’s response to the coronavirus, which has hit the U.S. worse than any other country.

The WHO, however, is still collaborating with U.S. colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, as well as a number of academic institutions, and “that will continue,” Kerkhove said. 

“Watching out for these new diseases and responding to them in a rapid way is extremely important, and we rely heavily on our colleagues and institutions in the U.S., like the CDC, like NIH, and like the hundreds of collaborating centers this organization has across the United States,” Ryan said. 

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