As the novel coronavirus continues its deadly march through the global population – a handful of countries are accounting for the vast majority of new cases.
The world notched an unwanted record with more than 100,000 new cases over the last 24 hours, according to the World Health Organisation.
“Almost two-thirds of the cases were reported in just four countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference overnight.
Those four countries are the United States, Russia, Brazil and India.
All four are among the world’s most populated countries but the slow response and poor handling of the pandemic has seen them earn an unwanted reputation as deadly virus epicentres.
Cases in Peru, Chile and Mexico are also rising quickly.
Slum cities in India could be super spreaders
While the US has long been a global hotspot and registered another 20,669 cases, Brazil and Russia have emerged in recent weeks as new virus hotspots, recording nearly 20,000 and more than 9,000 official cases respectively, in the past 24 hours.
Meanwhile there are grave fears for the coronavirus carnage that could unfold among India’s 1.2 billion people, of which about 20 per cent live in crowded slums.
“We are very concerned about rising cases in low and middle income countries,” the WHO chief said in his statement overnight.
Epidemiologist Professor Raina MacIntyre from the University of NSW says the number of cases in places like India is likely much higher, with densely packed housing among poorer communities likely to fuel the spread of coronavirus.
“The reported number of cases in many low income countries may be the tip of the iceberg,” she told Yahoo News Australia Wednesday.
“Countries that are seeing a rising trend need to review each of the pillars of disease control and also look at urban slums in megacities,” she said. “These could be hotspots for transmission.”
While the US and Russia are doing extensive testing, the true case of the virus spread in India is thought to be much worse than is currently known.
According to Oxford University’s Our World in Data project, Russia is currently doing 1.56 tests per 1,000 people and the US is doing 1.11 tests per 1,000 people.
India, however, is only doing 0.07 tests per 1,000 people.
The nation recently extended its lockdown for an extra two weeks until May 31 but government officials expressed a keenness to get the economy going again.
It imposed a strict lockdown on March 24, with schools, some public transport and most businesses shutting down.
Brazil and Russia rise in coronavirus cases and deaths
While testing data from Brazil is thought to be somewhat unreliable, the country recently passed the UK to have the third most cases in the world at more than 291,500, behind Russia at about 309,000 and the US at more than 1.5 million.
Brazil has recorded 18,859 official COVID-19 deaths so far. Its new daily cases are now rivalling those of the US.
President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticised for his handling of the outbreak. The far-right former army captain has long snubbed social distancing measures, arguing instead for reopening the economy.
He has also become an increasingly strong advocate for the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as a possible remedy for COVID-19, despite warnings from health experts of risks.
“We are at war. Worse than defeat would be the shame of not putting up a fight,” Mr Bolsonaro tweeted to explain the government decision to put forward the drugs without proof of their effectiveness.
Meanwhile Russian officials said Thursday, AEST, that the worst was behind the country.
Russia appears to have passed the peak of its wave of coronavirus infections, enabling authorities to “cautiously remove” quarantine restrictions, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said.
“Today is the first day that the number of those who have recovered is exceeding the number of those falling ill,” Mr Mishustin told a meeting of senior officials, according to comments carried by the Russian news agency Interfax.
Senior officials have been noting a declining infection rate in the past week and a half as they seek to lift lockdown measures that have compounded the country's economic woes.
“It is possible that our health care system has begun to pass the peak of its workload,” Mr Mishustin said.
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