Confusion and complacency in addressing Covid-19 means the pandemic is a long way from over, but it can be brought under control in months with proven public health measures, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said yesterday.
"We too want to see societies and economies reopening, and travel and trade resuming," Tedros told a news briefing.
"But right now, intensive care units in many countries are overflowing and people are dying – and it's totally avoidable."
"The Covid19 pandemic is a long way from over. But we have many reasons for optimism. The decline in cases and deaths during the first two months of the year shows that this virus and its variants can be stopped," he added, saying transmission was being driven by "confusion, complacency and inconsistency in public health measures."
WHO team leader on Covid-19 Maria van Kerkove told the news briefing the pandemic was growing exponentially, with a 9% increase in cases last week, the seventh consecutive week of increases, and a 5% rise in deaths.
Tedros said that in some countries, despite continuing transmission, restaurants and nightclubs were full and markets were open and crowded with few people taking precautions.
In India, hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees yesterday flocked to take a holy bath in Ganges river, even as the nation racked up the world's highest tally of new daily coronavirus infections.
With 168,912 new cases, India accounts for one in six of all new infections globally, although the figure is still well below the US peak of nearly 300,000 new cases on January 8.
Yesterday's new infections carried India past Brazil for a tally of 13.53 million, data compiled by Reuters shows, ranking it the second-most infected country after the United States, with 31.2 million.
In the northern city of Haridwar, nearly a million devotees thronged the banks of the Ganges, a river many Hindus consider holy, to participate in the months-long 'Kumbh Mela' or pitcher festival.
"The crowd here is surging...the police are continuously appealing to people to maintain social distancing," police official Sanjay Gunjyal told Reuters at the site.
By mid-morning a million people had taken a dip in the river, believed to wash away one's sins.
As India's second wave of infections builds, with fewer than 4% estimated to have been vaccinated among a population of 1.4 billion, experts say the situation could have a long way to go before it starts getting better.
"After cases declined in January-February, we were very comfortable," said a panel of high court judges in the western state of Gujarat, calling on authorities to take urgent steps to rein in the outbreak.
"Almost everyone forgot that there was ever corona," added the panel, headed by Chief Justice Vikram Nath.
A full opening of the economy from last year's crippling lockdown, coupled with the mass religious festivals and political rallies in states heading to elections have fuelled the crisis.
Meanwhile, Russia's Covid vaccine Sputnik V has been recommended for emergency use in India by a committee of experts.
If approved by regulator DCGI, this will be the third vaccine to be used in India after Serum Institute of India's Covishield - developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca - and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin.
Sputnik V, manufactured in India by Dr Reddy's, has the highest effectiveness - 91.6 percent -- after the Moderna and Pfizer shots. Dr Reddy's had applied on February 19 for emergency use of the vaccine, which is in Phase 3 of clinical trials in India.
BRITAIN LIFTS CURBS
Britain partially lifted coronavirus restrictions yesterday, reopening shops, gyms, pub gardens and hairdressers.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the easing as a "major step" towards normal life resuming in the country once the worst affected in Europe, following a successful vaccination campaign and lockdown measures that have cut deaths by 95 percent and cases by 90 percent from January highs.
Australia abandoned its goal to inoculate almost its entire population by the end of the year after new medical advice that people under 50 should take Pfizer's vaccine instead of AstraZeneca over a potential link to blood clots, reports AFP.
Fears over the effectiveness of the vaccine manufactured by China's Sinovac were brushed aside by Beijing on Sunday after a top disease control official suggested the country's vaccines "don't have very high rates of protection".
In Brazil, a study revealed that the number of Covid-19 patients under 40 in intensive care surpassed older groups last month, driven partly by a new coronavirus variant known as P1.
Japan yesterday imposed new virus measures on Tokyo to bring down surging cases less than 100 days before the 2020 Olympic Games begin.
It also started vaccinating the elderly as the country's inoculation programme, criticised for its slow pace, kicked up a gear. Vaccines will be offered to people aged 65 or older.