(Image: EPA/Riccardo Antimiani)

Global cases of COVID-19 have cracked the 1 million mark. It’s particularly dire news in the United States, where numbers are skyrocketing thanks to an inadequate, underprepared health system and an initially indifferent presidential administration.

In Italy and Spain, it looks like the peak may have passed. And while deaths have risen in Australia in the past week, is there reason for some cautious optimism here?

One million cases

There are now more than 1 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and more than 52,000 deaths according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

It took 75 days for us to reach 500,000 cases. The next 500,000 came in at just eight. The death rate for COVID-19 is still somewhat unclear since testing regimes diverge considerably from country to country, and the numbers depend on what you count as a coronavirus death.

In Italy, it is over 10%, while here in Australia, it’s still under 0.5%. A new study in The Lancet put the case fatality rate at 1.38%.

America, home of the sick

Nearly a quarter (238,820) of those worldwide cases are in the United States. New York remains the epicentre of the crisis — it now has 83,000 cases, a month ago it had one.

But many smaller states and cities are also recording alarming outbreaks, most notably in New Orleans, where the The Atlantic suggests things are moving so quickly it could become the country’s next virus hotspot.

If Louisiana — population 4.6 million — were a country, its death toll would be in the top 15. 

The economy, meanwhile, has been utterly devastated. In just two weeks, almost 10 million American jobs disappeared. The unemployment rate is estimated to be around 17% — it was 3.5% in February. 

Ups and downs in Europe

It’s still unclear whether relief is coming to Italy and Spain just yet. In Spain, 950 people died in the past day, taking the country’s death toll past 10,000, although officials said a consistent slowdown in new cases over the last five days showed the country had reached a plateau.

Italy recorded 727 deaths yesterday which is, astonishingly, its lowest increase in a week. The country’s curve has slowly been flattening since early March, with new cases gradually falling

The United Kingdom, however, has not reached that plateau yet. The country recorded 569 new deaths yesterday, an increase for the third consecutive day. 

The world’s quietest ‘yay’

Over the last few days there have been some optimistic signs in Australia — which should, and we cannot stress this enough, be treated with great caution.

Earlier this week Health Minister Greg Hunt said our curve was flattening, and that the rate of daily increase had slowed.

NSW recorded 91 new cases yesterday, numbers that were down for a third straight day.

The trend seems to have continued throughout the week, with experts like infectious diseases specialist Peter Collingon suggesting the curve in both NSW and nationally seems to be falling.

That’s likely the result of travel bans and other restrictions put in place five to 10 days ago. Other scientists have continued to warn people not to get our hopes too high just yet.

Our trajectory shows we’ve done a good job closing the borders (Ruby Princess aside), which is a strong start given a lot of Australia’s cases are still linked to overseas travel.

State and federal governments are still concerned about potential undetected community transmission. In NSW, there are 307 cases of local transmission with an unknown source, out of 2389 in total.

That number has been slowly trending up, and it’s important we watch it carefully. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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