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WHO director warns coronavirus pandemic 'not close to being over'

By Don Jacobson
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WHO director warns coronavirus pandemic 'not close to being over'
Palestinians wear protective masks and gloves at the  entrance to the Azza Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, West Bank, on Monday after the Palestinian Authority announced a two-day lockdown of the Bethlehem district. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

June 29 (UPI) -- The director of the World Health Organization warned Monday that the coronavirus pandemic is "not close to being over," a day after the world reached grim milestones of 10 million cases and 500,000 deaths.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a video conference from the agency's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, that despite "unprecedented measures to suppress transmission and save lives," the virus has not been completely stopped.

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"Although many countries have made some progress, globally, the pandemic is actually speeding up," he said. "We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives, but the hard reality is that this is not even close to being over."

Ghebreyesus cited WHO statistics showing nearly 180,000 new infections worldwide were recorded in the previous 24 hours -- that included 44,000 new cases in the United States and 39,000 in Brazil.

RELATED Coronavirus milestones: 10 million cases, 500,000 deaths worldwide

The rising figures, he said, illustrated that billions of people are still at risk of infection even as many nations are easing up on strict lockdown measures.

"This virus still has a lot of room to move," he said. "The virus is spreading aggressively."

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As he has since the first signs of the pandemic in January, Ghebreyesus urged that the world's governments put more resources into identifying people who might have been exposed through contact tracing and other basic measures.

RELATED EU weighs barring travelers from U.S., Russia, Brazil in border reopening plan

"The single most important intervention for breaking chains of transmission is not necessarily high-tech and can be carried out by a broad range of profession. It's tracing and quarantine contacts," he said.

In China, authorities imposed a strict lockdown in Anxin county after 18 new cases were detected there.

The measure affects 400,000 residents in the county and mandates that "all villages, communities and buildings will be fully closed."Under the rules, families are only permitted to send one person per household outside to purchase supplies once a day. All outside vehicles are banned.

RELATED Brazil hits 1 million COVID-19 cases

In Beijing, people are still allowed to leave the city if they have a negative virus test.

At the United Nations, the U.N. World Food Program said Monday the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a wave of hunger, pushing "millions more people into food insecurity" in low- and middle-income countries.

"The front line in the battle against the coronavirus is shifting from the rich world to the poor world," food program executive director David Beasley said.

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In response, he said, the program is undertaking the biggest humanitarian effort in its history, boosting the number of people it is helping from 97 million last year to up to 138 million in 2020.

New estimates show that the number of hungry people in lower-income countries could rise to 270 million before the year's end -- an 82 percent increase from before the pandemic.

The U.N. agency is urgently seeking to raise $4.9 billion over the next six months for its work.

"Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos," Beasley warned. "Without it, we could see increased social unrest and protests, a rise in migration, deepening conflict and widespread under-nutrition among populations that were previously immune from hunger."

A pandemic also is threatening to send about 8 million middle-class Africans into poverty, according to the World Data Lab.

"The tragedy is that because Africa is not growing fast, this collapse of the middle class could take several years to recover," World Data Lab co-founder Homi Kharas told The New York Times.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the coronavirus pandemic has been "a disaster" for the country and called for a U.S. New Deal-style program of government investment to help recover from the economic shock.

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In comments Monday to Times Radio, Johnson said the pandemic has had a devastating effect on Britain's economy, which is expected to contract by up to 10 percent in 2020.

He called for a "Rooseveltian approach to the U.K.," referring to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt's 1930s New Deal policies in which massive taxpayer investments were made in public works projects in response to the Great Depression.

"This has been a disaster, let's not mince our words, this has been an absolute nightmare for the country," he said. "The country has gone through a profound shock. But in those moments you have the opportunity to change and to do things better.

"We really want to build back better, to do things differently, to invest in infrastructure, transport, broadband -- you name it."

Labor Party Leader Keir Starmer criticized Johnson's handling of school closures during the pandemic, accusing his government of "a total lack of planning" for not yet announcing if schools will reopen on time in September.

"If there had been a plan that had started two or three months ago, we would probably have most children back in school now," Starmer said.

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In the West Bank, Palestinian authorities announced a two-day coronavirus-related lockdown in the Bethlehem district.

Kamel Hmeid, the Palestinian Authority's governor in Bethlehem, said the measure was triggered by an "unprecedented increase" of 33 COVID-19 cases in the district, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

Palestinian police established checkpoints inside the district and at its entrances in order to prevent citizens from going in or out unless for certain reasons, authorities said.

In South Korea, the number of new virus cases dipped back below 50 on Monday, marking a decline from the weekend's alarming totals.

After logging 62 new cases on Sunday and 51 on Saturday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted 42 infections on Monday, raising the country's total caseload more than 12,700.

Officials said they were frustrated by new cluster infections continuing to pop up around South Korea, with most centered on small-scale gatherings at churches.

World moves to reopen amid COVID-19 pandemic

Visitors wear face masks as they tour the Whitney Museum of American Art as it reopens on September 3. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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