Weekly Wrap Up: Half a Million Cases of COVID-19

The world will see the transmission curve go up while Venezuela just reported its first official COVID-19 death.

Photo: Kennyjo

The first time I wrote about the disease back in January, there were a little over 4,000 cases in the world. It took the virus 81 days to reach the 300,000 mark on March 23rd. Just three days later, there are 530,000 cases around the world, suggesting we’re entering the steep logarithmic segment of the transmission curve. The new coronavirus pandemic took the world by surprise and we’re paying the price.

The epicenter has shifted from China to Europe, and now to the United States, which already has more than 83,000 patients, more than China and Italy, after 15,000 cases were diagnosed only yesterday (although this dramatic increase can be partially explained by the greater number of tests being performed now). In New York, where most of the cases are located, the number of infected people doubles every five days. A terrible combination of very limited testing capacity in the beginning and delayed social distancing strategies explains the advance of the disease.

The situation in most of Europe remains critical as well, particularly in Spain and Italy, countries that have reached 12,580 deaths (52% of the global total). 

Developing a quick, inexpensive test to massively screen patients seems to be the best bet. Serologic tests, which can detect antibodies against the virus, are the most likely candidates. Although some of these have already been developed and bought by several countries, including many in Latin America, serious doubts about their capacity to detect sick patients have arisen. Spain imported over 600,000 serologic tests from an allegedly unlicensed Chinese manufacturer, just to discover that they only detected sick patients 30% of the time.

Chavismo also acknowledged the first COVID-19  death in the nation, a 47-year-old male patient from Aragua.

On the other hand, after relaxing its stringent distancing measures earlier this week, China started to register an important increase in imported cases, prompting authorities to effectively block the entrance of almost all foreigners to the country, including residents and visa holders.

In Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro’s regime has confirmed 107 cases, while doubts about the veracity of these numbers have arisen following contradictions in figures and accusations from the caretaker president, Juan Guaidó. Chavismo also acknowledged the first COVID-19  death in the nation, a 47-year-old male patient from Aragua. The regime has been screening suspicious patients through the Patria platform, a website to obtain chavista subsidies seen by many as a social control tool, that isn’t even used by the entire population.The regime has used the quarantine to furtherly tackle the press and dissidents. So far, Warao leader and journalist Melquiades Avila was forced into hiding following threats from the governor of  Delta Amacuro. Similarly, Julio Molina, a medical union leader in Monagas was put under house arrest after recording a video asking authorities to be transparent. Tony Geara, an opposition lawmaker from Bolívar State, in southern Venezuela, was accused of carrying explosives and detained by civilian intelligence forces in a checkpoint. Darwinson Rojas, a journalist in Caracas, was also arrested on March 21st, following his coverage of the pandemic in the country. Requests from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Amnesty International asking for his release have been ignored by regime authorities.

Juan Carlos Gabaldón

Medical doctor from Merida, currently studying Medical Parasitology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine