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Pandemic has worsened globally, yet to peak in central America: WHO

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WHO records biggest daily spike in infections globally

GENEVA: New coronavirus cases globally had their biggest daily increase ever as the pandemic worsened with central America still to peak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday, urging countries to press on with efforts to contain the virus.

"More than six months into the pandemic, this is not the time for any country to take its foot off the pedal," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online briefing.

More than 136,000 new cases were reported worldwide on Sunday, the most in a single day so far, he said. Nearly 75 per cent of them were reported from 10 countries, mostly in the Americas and South Asia.

In response to a question on China, WHO's top emergencies expert, Dr Mike Ryan, said retrospective studies of how the outbreak has been addressed could wait, adding: "We need to focus now on what we are doing today to prevent second peaks."

Dr Ryan also said infections in central American countries including Guatemala were still on the rise, and that they were "complex" epidemics.

"I think this is a time of great concern," he said, calling for strong government leadership and international support for the region.

Dr Maria van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said that a "comprehensive approach" was essential in South America.

More than 7 million people have been reported infected with the coronavirus globally and over 400,000 have died.

"This is far from over," Dr van Kerkhove said.

In a separate development, disease experts yesterday questioned a WHO statement that transmission of Covid-19 by people with no symptoms is "very rare", saying this guidance could pose problems for governments as they seek to lift lockdowns.

'VERY RARE'

Dr van Kerkhove said on Monday that many countries undertaking contact tracing had identified asymptomatic cases, but were not finding they caused further spread of the virus. "It is very rare," she said.

"I was quite surprised by the WHO statement," said professor of clinical epidemiology Liam Smeeth at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who added that he had not seen the data Dr Kerkhove's statement was based on.

"It goes against my impressions from the science so far that suggest asymptomatic people - who never get symptoms - and pre-symptomatic people are an important source of infection to others."

In another development, Harvard Medical School research based on satellite images of hospital travel patterns and search engine data said the coronavirus might have been spreading in China as early as August last year. China dismissed the report as "ridiculous".

The research used satellite imagery of hospital parking lots in Wuhan - where the disease was first identified in late 2019 - and data for symptom-related queries on search engines for things such as "cough" and "diarrhoea".

"Increased hospital traffic and symptom search data in Wuhan preceded the documented start of the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic in December 2019," according to the research.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunyingsaid: "I think it is ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous, to come up with this conclusion based on superficial observations such as traffic volume." - REUTERS

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