Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergencies program Mike Ryan speaks at a news conference on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Denis Balibouse | Reuters

As the global death toll from the coronavirus approaches 1 million people, it’s “not impossible” to consider that number doubling if countries don’t uniformly work to suppress the virus’ spread, the World Health Organization said on Friday. 

“It’s certainly unimaginable, but it’s not impossible because if we look at losing 1 million people in nine months and then we just look at the realities of getting vaccines out there in the next nine months, it’s a big task for everyone involved,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said in regards to whether the coronavirus death toll could rise to 2 million people. 

“The real question is: Are we prepared, collectively, to do what it takes to avoid that number?” Ryan said. 

Since the coronavirus emerged from Wuhan, China, late last year, it has infected more than 32 million worldwide and has killed at least 983,900 people as of Friday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

Covid-19 fatality rates have slowly declined over the course of the pandemic because scientists and health experts have made strides in treating seriously ill patients through the better use of oxygen and the steroid dexamethasone, among other therapeutics, Ryan said during a press briefing at WHO’s headquarters in Geneva. 

However, 2 million coronavirus deaths, or potentially even more, could be reported before a Covid-19 vaccine becomes widely available if world leaders don’t better implement life saving measures and “evolve the nature and scale and intensity of our cooperation,” Ryan warned. 

“The time for action is now on every single aspect of this strategic approach,” Ryan said. “Not just test and trace, not just clinical care, not just social distancing, not just hygiene, not just masks, not just vaccines. Do it all, and unless we do it all, (2 million deaths) are not only imaginable but unfortunately and sadly very likely.” 

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the Covid-19 pandemic, said that a number of countries in Europe are reporting an “increasing trend in cases. That increase in cases is partially due to better testing, but there’s also been a “worrying” increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations and intensive-care unit admissions, she said.

“We’re at the end of September, not even towards the end of September, and we haven’t even started our flu season yet,” Van Kerkhove said. “What we are worried about is the possibility that these trends are going in the wrong direction.”

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates. 

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