WHO chief warns pandemic 'accelerating'

The WHO says nearly half of the more than 150,000 new COVID-19 cases were from the Americas

The head of the World Health Organisation says the coronavirus pandemic is "accelerating" and that more than 150,000 cases have been reported within 24 hours - the highest single-day number so far.

In a media briefing on Friday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said nearly half of the newly reported cases were from the Americas, with significant numbers from South Asia and the Middle East.

"We are in a new and dangerous phase," he said, warning that restrictive measures are still needed to stop the pandemic.

"Many people are understandably fed up with being at home (and) countries are understandably eager to open up their societies."

But Tedros warned that the virus is still "spreading fast" and that measures like social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing are still critical.

With many countries easing restrictions but fearful of a second wave of COVID-19 disease, WHO emergencies expert Mike Ryan urged a gradual and scientific approach.

"Exiting lockdowns must be done carefully, in a step-wise manner, and must be driven by the data," he said.

"There is no specific definition of a second wave," he added, saying new clusters did not necessarily mean a second wave while "second peaks" were also possible in one wave.

Ryan praised authorities in Germany, China and South Korea for their handling of the pandemic.

WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said easing of lockdowns had to be accompanied with good public health measures. "It is about being able not only to lift these measures carefully but being able to reactivate them," she added.

Meanwhile, a study by Italy's National Institute of Health indicated the coronavirus was in circulation in wastewater in the northern cities of Milan and Turin as of December 18, 2019 - at least two months before the virus was confirmed to have spread locally in the population.

The study was based on 40 water samples collected as part of regular checks from sewage treatment plants in northern Italy from October 2019 to February 2020.

It showed the virus that causes COVID-19 in December 18 samples from Milan and Turin, while earlier samples were negative.

"This research can contribute to understanding the beginning of the circulation of the virus in Italy," the institute said in a statement.

Germany's disease control centre reported the highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases in a month on Friday as positive tests from an outbreak at a slaughterhouse enter the statistics

The Robert Koch Institute listed 770 new cases, taking its total tally since the start of the outbreak to 188,534.

It was the biggest daily increase since May 20.

Authorities in the western region of Guetersloh are testing thousands of workers at a slaughterhouse.

At least 730 people have already tested positive for the coronavirus there.

Indian authorities recorded the highest one-day spike of 13,586 new coronavirus cases on Friday, raising the total to 380,532.

India's death toll reached 12,573, a rise of 336.

India stands behind the United States, Brazil and Russia in the number of cases.

More than 8.54 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 454,152 have died, according to a Reuters tally.