The coronavirus pandemic is 'easily the most severe' emergency that the WHO has ever declared, the agency said on Monday as global cases surged past 16 million.
The global tally has risen by a million in just four days, led by massive outbreaks in the United States, India and Brazil which are each piling up tens of thousands of new cases per day, reports agencies. South Africa is also seeing more than 10,000 new cases a day while places such as Spain, Belgium and Hong Kong are facing second waves of the disease.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the number of cases had doubled in just six weeks as he warned today that 'the pandemic continues to accelerate'.
However, while cases have been surging at record levels, global deaths have remained stagnant at around 30,000 to 40,000 per week. Speaking nearly six months after the WHO first declared a global health emergency, Tedros said scientists were 'still learning' about how to tackle the virus.
'This is the sixth time a global health emergency has been declared under the International Health Regulations, but it is easily the most severe,' he said.
'Almost 16million cases have now been reported to WHO, and more than 640,000 deaths,' he said before cases did cross the 16million threshold.
'And the pandemic continues to accelerate. In the past six weeks, the total number of cases has roughly doubled.'
When the health emergency was declared on January 30 there were fewer than 100 cases outside China, Tedros said.
The jump from 10million to 15million took only 26 days until July 23, and the latest million cases have been recorded in the space of only four days.
The United States, India and Brazil - the three countries with more than a million confirmed cases by themselves - are taking the brunt of the latest surge.
India today set a new record of 49,931 cases in 24 hours, while Brazil has averaged nearly 46,000 cases per day over the last week.
Elsewhere in Latin America, countries including Mexico, Colombia and Argentina are all piling up thousands of new cases per day, with Mexico's death toll now nearly as high as Britain's.
According to WHO figures, the world passed one million confirmed cases on April 4, by which time much of the West was in lockdown.
The world reached five million cases on May 23 - 114 days after the declaration of the health emergency - but the next five million took only 36 days until June 28.
Tedros praised countries such as Germany and South Korea for keeping their outbreaks under control because social distancing measures were followed - but warned that 'where they are not, cases go up'.
He added: 'Covid-19 has changed our world. It has brought people, communities and nations together, and driven them apart.
'It has shown what humans are capable of - both positively and negatively. We have learned an enormous amount, and we're still learning.
'But although our world has changed, the fundamental pillars of the response have not: political leadership, and informing, engaging and listening to communities.
'And nor have the basic measures needed to suppress transmission and save lives: find, isolate, test and care for cases; and trace and quarantine their contacts.
'Keep your distance from others, clean your hands, avoid crowded and enclosed areas, and wear a mask where recommended.'Where these measures are followed, cases go down. Where they're not, cases go up.'
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