By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) - European and North American hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) are filling to capacity as a new wave of the novel coronavirus washes over the globe with more cases in a single month than in the pandemic's first half-year, the World Health Organization (WHO) chief said Friday.
"More cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past four weeks than in the first six months of the pandemic," said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus at a twice-weekly press webinar from the organization's headquarters in Geneva.
"Across Europe and North America, hospitals and ICU units are filling up or full."
The WHO has reported nearly 57 million cases worldwide and nearly 1.36 million deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tedros said that during the week, there had been good news from vaccine trials, which continue to give the world hope of ending the pandemic, with such "good news" also from the UK.
The WHO was asked about a UK study released Friday that showed that most participants infected with the coronavirus seemed immune for at least six months before being threatened to be re-infected.
"This is really good news to see that we're seeing sustained levels of immune response in humans so far as and it's good news to see that and we really commend the researchers for doing those longitudinal studies," said Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO's executive director of health emergencies.
"We know there may be limits to that. It also gives us hopes as well on the vaccine side that if we start to see similar immune responses to the vaccine, we may hope for longer periods of protection."
Earlier in the week, US drug-maker Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech had said that their coronavirus vaccine was 95% effective, upgrading an earlier estimate of 90%.
Their announcement comes days after US drug company Moderna said its own shot was 94.5% effective, and the WHO said it was looking at vaccine developments in other parts of the world, including Russia.
The WHO said that 47 candidates at the clinical development stage were in the vaccine pipelines, including 10 in Phase 3 clinical trials.
Regarding therapeutics, the WHO said Friday that the antiviral drug Remdesivir was not suggested for patients admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 -- regardless of how severely ill they are -- due to a lack of any evidence that it improves survival or needs for ventilation assistance, said a WHO Guideline Development Group (GDG) panel of international experts.
Remdesivir has received worldwide attention as a potentially effective treatment for severe COVID-19 and is increasingly used to treat patients in the hospital. However, its role in clinical practice has remained uncertain.