760MILLION people ‘have had Covid-19’: WHO predicts 10% have caught disease

By | October 5, 2020

WHO says 10 PER CENT of the world’s population – 760MILLION people – has had Covid-19 but warns most people are still vulnerable because ‘we are now heading into a difficult period’

  • Dr Michael Ryan, head of emergencies at WHO, said ‘best estimate’ was that 10% of people had been infected
  • Suggests 760million people have contracted disease, based on current global population of about 7.6billion
  • Only 35million cases have officially been picked up around world through countries’ official testing regimes


One in 10 people around the world has been infected with the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization.

Dr Michael Ryan, head of emergencies at the WHO, said its ‘best estimate’ was that 10 per cent of the global population has caught Covid-19. He said the figures vary wildly from country to country, as well as between urban and rural settings, and different groups of people. 

The WHO estimate suggests 760million people have contracted the disease, based on current global population of about 7.6billion. It also suggests Covid-19 kills around 0.14 per cent of patients, making it slightly deadlier than seasonal flu — which has a mortality rate of around 0.1 per cent. For comparison, the WHO’s last estimate was that around 0.6 per cent of everyone who gets infected will die.

But only 35million cases have officially been picked up around the world through official testing programmes. Millions of infections were missed during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring when nations struggled to keep up with the virus’s exponential growth and develop tests in time.

In Britain, for example, an average of 9,000 people are testing positive for the virus every day at the moment, but experts believe that figure was over 100,000 at the UK’s peak in April – but the country couldn’t test people fast enough to find out how the virus was really spreading.

While 760million might seem like a staggeringly high number, Dr Ryan and the WHO warn it does not offer any protection through immunity and means nine out of people are still vulnerable to Covid-19.

Dr Michael Ryan, head of emergencies at the international body, said the WHO's 'best estimate' was that 10 per cent of the global population has caught Covid-19

Dr Michael Ryan, head of emergencies at the international body, said the WHO’s ‘best estimate’ was that 10 per cent of the global population has caught Covid-19

Speaking to a meeting of the WHO’s 34-member executive board focusing on Covid-19 today, Dr Ryan said ‘Our current best estimates tell us about 10 per cent of the global population may have been infected by this virus.

‘It varies depending on country, it varies from urban to rural, it varies depending on groups. But what it does mean is that the vast majority of the world remains at risk. We are now heading into a difficult period. The disease continues to spread.’ 

Dr Ryan said southeast Asia was experiencing a spike in cases while Europe and the eastern Mediterranean were seeing an uptick in deaths again. The situations in Africa and the Western Pacific were ‘rather more positive’, he added.

Dr Ryan spoke just minutes after WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus led a moment of silence to honour the Covid-19 victims and give a round of applause for the health workers who have worked to save them.

Global fatalities reached one million last week – nine months after the first victim succumbed to the virus in Wuhan in January.

The United States has recorded the most deaths with more than 200,000, followed by Brazil, more than 142,000; India, 96,000; Mexico, 76,000; and the United Kingdom, 43,000.   

It took just three months for Covid-19 deaths to double from half a million.

More than 5,400 people are dying around the world every 24 hours, according to calculations based on averages in September.

That equates to about 226 people an hour, or one person every 16 seconds. It means that, in the time it takes to watch a 90-minute football match, 340 people die on average.  

Experts remain concerned that the official figures for deaths and cases globally significantly under-represent the real tally because of inadequate testing and recording and the possibility of concealment by some countries.

The response to the pandemic has pitted proponents of health measures like lockdowns against those intent on sustaining politically sensitive economic growth, with approaches differing from country to country.

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The United States, Brazil and India, which together account for nearly 45 per cent of all Covid-19 deaths globally, have all lifted social distancing measures in recent weeks.

News that the death toll had reached the grim milestone last week prompted the head of the United Nations to say there was ‘no end in sight’. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it ‘agonising’ news.

He warned ‘there is no end in sight to the spread of the virus, the loss of jobs, the disruption of education, the upheaval to our lives’.

And he added: ‘It’s a mind-numbing figure. Yet we must never lose sight of each and every individual life. They were fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues.

‘The pain has been multiplied by the savageness of this disease. Risks of infection kept families from bedsides. And the process of mourning and celebrating a life was often made impossible.’  

Still he said the pandemic could be overcome with responsible leadership, cooperation and science, as well as precautions such as social distancing and wearing face masks. He said any vaccine must be ‘available and affordable to all’.

Until a vaccine – expected for the vulnerable early next year and to be rolled out en masse by the end of 2021 – arrives, draconian social restrictions and increased testing are the only ways to curb the virus’s spread.

It comes after Madrid became the first European capital to head back into lockdown on Friday, with 4.8million residents in the Spanish capital barred from leaving the city.

Madrid is suffering one of the highest infection rates of any region in Europe, with 850 cases in the past week per 100,000 people, according to the WHO.

The new rules, which started at 10pm on Friday, saw the city’s borders closed to non-essential travel, with parks and playgrounds shut, gatherings limited to six people and bars and restaurants ordered to close at 11pm.  


Paris will close all its bars starting on Tuesday for two weeks as the city’s coronavirus alert level is moved to maximum to combat rising case numbers. 

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Restaurants and bistros that serve alcohol will be allowed to stay open, provided they register all guests on a track and trace system, maintain social distancing, and close no later than 10pm. 

Working from home should be prioritised ‘now more than ever’, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, while university lecture halls should be no more than half full.

Madrid became the first European capital to lockdown last Friday, with 4.8 million residents in the Spanish capital barred from leaving the city and all bars forced to shut by 11pm.

It comes after Paris breached the maximum alert threshold of more than 250 infections per 100,000 people, with more than 30 per cent of intensive care beds reserved for coronavirus patients. 

The city breached the criteria last week, but officials had been waiting to see if the situation improved before going ahead with extra measures.

Mr Castex announced on Sunday that extra measures would be needed, after the number of new cases kept rising.

According to government data, there were 1,155 new cases of coronavirus in Paris on October 1, the most recent data to be made public.

That is an increase on the 1,110 cases reported the day previously, and a significant increase from the 705 cases reported on September 1.

It also comes after the city of Marseille, which is at the centre of a second wave of coronavirus in the south of France, went into a similar lockdown last week. 

More details about the Paris lockdown, which will also apply in three departments around the city, will be announced by mayor Anne Hildalgo on Monday.   

‘These measures, indispensable in the fight to curb the virus’ spread, will apply to Paris and the three departments immediately surrounding it, for a duration of two weeks,’ an announcement published on Sunday said.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin admitted that the new measures would be difficult for Parisians, but insisted that they were needed to keep people safe.

‘We are French, we love to drink, to eat, to live, to smile and to kiss each other,’ he told French TV channel LCI.

France reported 12,565 new cases of coronavirus on Sunday, along with 32 new deaths from the virus. 


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