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Mapped: Where the coronavirus is spreading

Tracking the global response to COVID-19.

Coronavirus cases have been reported in more than two dozen countries.
Confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, North and South America, the Caribbean, and Australia and New Zealand. (TNH)

Countries face another wave of coronavirus infections as 2021 begins, along with questions about equitable vaccine access.

Global confirmed cases of the new coronavirus exceeded 90.2 million by 11 January 2021, including more than 1.93 million deaths. 

The pandemic is driving record-breaking humanitarian needs in 2021: Global aid response plans total more than $35 billion, but there are questions about where all the money will come from. In 2020, the pandemic doubled the number of people who needed humanitarian aid worldwide, according to the UN. A record appeal released in July 2020 called for $10.3 billion to address coronavirus impacts alone.

ColombiaIraqBangladeshUkraine, and the Palestinian territories have the most confirmed cases among areas with pre-pandemic response appeals.

The illness caused by the virus is officially known as COVID-19, short for "coronavirus disease 2019".

Chinese authorities first publicly reported the emergence of a new respiratory illness with pneumonia-like symptoms in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, on 31 December 2019. The new coronavirus rapidly reached every province or region in mainland China before peaking in early February 2020.

Outside China, however, infections multiplied as the outbreak reached new epicentres thousands of kilometres away. The spread was rapid: there were only 30 jurisdictions with confirmed cases on 21 February 2020. Within a month, a pandemic was declared and global lockdowns escalated.

The UN launched an unprecedented global appeal on 25 March 2020, calling for $2 billion in new funds to tackle coronavirus in countries with critical humanitarian needs. The figure was revised upward to $6.7 billion in early May, then increased again to more than $10 billion in July. Aid response appeals for 2021 add up to a record $35 billion.

Beyond the immediate humanitarian impacts, the cost of helping the world's most vulnerable 10 percent facing COVID-19's socio-economic repercussions could total $90 billion, according to UN estimates.

Multiple vaccine candidates showed promising early signs in November 2020, but there are also warnings of "vaccine nationalism" and queue-jumping as wealthier countries buy up early supplies.

As of early January, all of the 42 countries that had started COVID-19 vaccinations were high-income or middle-income countries, according to the WHO.

"There’s a clear problem that low- and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet," said the WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "... At the outset, rich countries have bought up the majority of the supply of multiple vaccines."

The WHO announced in December 2020 that it had inked agreements to reserve some 1.3 billion doses for low- and middle-income countries under the COVAX programme, which was created with the goal of ensuring equal vaccine access.

Global containment efforts

There are unanswered questions about the virus itself and how to contain it before it escalated into a pandemic.

Countries ratcheted up restrictions, imposed mandatory quarantines, suspended flights, or closed borders to foreign travellers entirely. But there’s disagreement among public health professionals about whether border shutdowns and screenings are effective – or even counterproductive.

The WHO says border closures and travel restrictions likely delayed the spread of the virus but did not prevent it. Public health experts say border closures can exacerbate outbreaks by driving migration underground – away from public health systems.

The WHO has been cautious about border restrictions and even screenings when taking the rare step of declaring global health emergencies.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says the effectiveness of coronavirus entry screening is “low” – its models estimated that three quarters of cases would go undetected.

Separate estimates by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found thermal scanning might only flag one in every five arriving passengers infected with the virus.

Just as important are public education and robust medical follow-up procedures to ensure people who do develop symptoms know to seek out healthcare – and that healthcare staff know the signs and what to do. Early on, The Lancet medical journal urged that frontline clinics – not just higher-level disease-control centres – be “armed” with diagnostic kits.

The WHO has been cautious about border restrictions and even screenings when taking the rare step of declaring global health emergencies.

When the WHO declared a PHEIC for the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, it warned against shutting borders or imposing travel restrictions.

“Such measures are usually implemented out of fear and have no basis in science,” the WHO said at the time. “They push the movement of people and goods to informal border crossings that are not monitored, thus increasing the chances of the spread of disease.”

il/ag

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