WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus did not specify why he believes the outbreak that has infected some 2.5 million people and killed more than 166,000 could get worse.
He and others, however, have previously pointed to the likely future spread of the illness through Africa, where health systems are far less developed.
“Trust us. The worst is yet ahead of us,” Tedros said in Geneva on Monday.
“Let’s prevent this tragedy. It’s a virus that many people still don’t understand.”
The WHO warned a large proportion of the public remains susceptible to COVID-19.
Early results from sero-epidemiologic surveys from around the world – which monitor levels of immunity within a population – suggest that a relatively small percentage of the population may have been infected, the WHO said.
WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19 Maria van Kerkhove urged vigilance, saying a large proportion of the population who hadn’t been infected remained susceptible.
“So that means that the virus can take off again,” she said.
“And so we need to ensure that the measures that are put in place (to transition out of lockdown) are done carefully.”
Some Asian and European governments have gradually eased or started relaxing lockdown measures such as quarantines, school and business closures and restrictions on public gatherings, citing a decline in the growth of COVID-19 case counts and deaths.
Tedros and his agency have been on the defensive after US President Donald Trump last week ordered a halt to his country’s funding of the agency, alleging it botched the early response to the outbreak.
Trump said the WHO failed to adequately share “in a timely and transparent” way information about the outbreak after it erupted in China late last year, which Tedros disputed.
After insisting the US virus testing system was without fault, Trump said on Sunday evening he would be using the Defense Production Act to compel increased manufacturing of testing swabs.
America’s virus death toll has passed 40,000, with 750,000 infections.
Some nations ease lockdowns
China, where the pandemic began, has lifted travel and other restrictions, but customer traffic has been slow to return. And masks and temperature checks are routine.
India eased the world’s largest lockdown to allow some manufacturing and agricultural activity to resume – if employers can meet social distancing and hygiene standards. Companies are required to transport and shelter their workers, which few of them are able to do.
However, India also recorded its biggest single-day spike in cases, adding more than 1500.
Germany intends to begin allowing some small stores, like those selling furniture and baby goods, to reopen. Albania plans to let its mining and oil industries reopen, along with hundreds of businesses.
New Zealand extended its lockdown another week, but workers at some businesses such as construction and manufacturing will be able to resume their jobs soon.
The number of confirmed infections with the new coronavirus has surpassed 2.4 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true figures are likely significantly higher since mild infections can be missed, testing is limited and some countries tried to underplay their outbreaks or were too overwhelmed to effectively count them.
Italy deaths pass 24,000
Italyreported 2256 new cases overnight – its lowest daily infection figure in more than five weeks.
The total infection count rose by a record low 1.3 per cent to 181,288, according to the daily bulletin from the Civil Protection Agency.
The agency also announced 454 more deaths linked to COVID-19, bringing the total number of fatalities to 24,114.
It was the second-lowest daily death toll since March 19.
In another positive development, the number of active cases of the novel coronavirus – excluding deaths and recoveries – fell for the first time, by 20, to 108,237.
Italy has suffered the world’s highest death toll from the epidemic, but a significant recent drop in new cases has fuelled hopes for a breakthrough in the country’s battle against the virus.
On Monday the number of recoveries from the disease rose by 1822, to 48,877, and the number of patients in intensive care fell to 2573, the lowest in a month.
China steps up testing
China’s health authority has called for a stronger and more rigorous testing regime to ensure as Chinese nationals return home from abroad.
Mainland China has reported a total of 82,747 confirmed cases and 4632 deaths, with 12 new confirmed cases on April 19 – the lowest since March 13.
The southwestern Guangxi region on Monday further tightened already tough quarantine rules to isolate potential virus carriers.
All people entering Guangxi from overseas will be subject to 14 days of quarantine at a centralised location and 14 days of self-quarantine at home subsequently.
They also need to take two nucleic acid tests and one antibody test, according to a statement posted on the Guangxi health commission’s social media account.
Before entering Guangxi, people who have lived or travelled to areas classified as high-risk or medium-risk in China in the past 14 days must show negative nucleic acid test results, and the tests must have been conducted within the past seven days.
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