the worst is yet to come. The phrase is from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), and was delivered on June 29, six months after WHO received the first notification of the emergence of a new virus causing atypical pneumonia in Wuhan, China. Six months that left behind more than 10 million confirmed cases, half a million deaths and touched the economies of practically all countries. Just one week later, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have increased by more than a million, and the deceased total an additional 25,000 people.
the worst is yet to come. The WHO Director-General was probably not lacking in drama. The pandemic is raging in the Latin American and Caribbean region, which has gone from 40,000 cases a day in early June to more than 60,000 at the beginning of July. With Brazil, Mexico and, at a long distance, Peru and Chile as the countries that contribute the most confirmed cases. Only Brazil and Mexico accumulated – at the beginning of July– 1.8 million confirmed cases and almost 92,000 deaths. And the numbers grow as both countries start de-escalation.
U.S, which seemed to slowly bend the contagion curve during the month of May and the beginning of June (from 32,000 cases a day in the beginning of May to 21,000 in the beginning of June), experienced a new and rapid rebound in June and exceeded 45 000 daily cases in the last days.
It is not surprising that the United States and Brazil, two countries with emblematic “denialist” presidencies representing 7% of the world population, have contributed 36% of all confirmed cases and 39% of the deceased on the planet.
It is also not surprising that they are embarking on contradictory de-escalation processes at the height of the epidemic curve. In his intervention on June 29, and even without naming them specifically, Tedros made a good part of that “worst” gravitate in the erratic strategies for coping with the pandemic by these and some other countries.
In other regions of the world, and still far from the figures of the United States and Brazil, confirmed cases are also growing. Asia surpasses already the 50,000 new daily cases, carried mainly by India (more than 20,000 cases a day). Russia, on the path to the 700,000 accumulated cases, seems to have started a decrease in the contagion curve and its declared mortality – as also happens in Asia – is much lower than that registered in western Europe or the United States. Also in the Persian Gulf the numbers are increasing.
And last but not least, we all look with great unease at the great African unknown, with transmission figures still low but constantly increasing. Given the scarcity of health resources and the obvious difficulties for confinement in Africa, an expansion of the pandemic on this continent would divert public health and health care resources from other health problems and other equally serious epidemics.
Europe and winter
Europe also looks suspiciously next winter. Despite the fact that – with some exceptions – the European countries have controlled the first wave, health services continue to be in constant tension due to successive local outbreaks, some of great magnitude. Whether they will have the capacity to contain a second wave without having to resort to generalized confinements is another great unknown.
Live and be able to live. Dr. Tedros did not refer in his speech to the impact of the economic crisis on the health of populations. But it’s there and it promises to be devastating. Particularly serious in a highly indebted Africa that is already facing a significant depreciation of raw materials due to the global drop in industrial production. Nor will it be easy in developed countries. Less easy if the conflicts between the United States, China, Russia and Europe increase, as it seems.
The worst is yet to come. Apparently a prophecy that perhaps does not require great prophets. But the phrase was not so much the prediction of an inescapable future as a call to work to avoid or, at least, reduce that “worst”. A call not to let your guard down and to do even more to control the pandemic. The worst is yet to come, but it can be much “less worse” with effort and solidarity. Much less worse the less we are.