GENEVA

The World Health Organization on Tuesday commented officially for the first time on the death toll from the novel coronavirus exceeding one million worldwide, with more than 33 million cases confirmed globally.

WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris was asked to officially comment on the milestone at a UN press briefing in Geneva.

The milestone had not been posted on the organization’s website or mentioned the day before by the WHO chief, although the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres commented on it overnight.

“We were not specifically marking it as a very sad milestone,” said Harris.

“As the [UN] secretary-general said, every person is a parent or child, a brother, a sister, a wife, or a husband.

“So many people have lost so many people, and haven’t had the chance to say goodbye because this horrible disease is so infectious that many, many of the people who died, died alone.”

Harris said many things can be done to prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as washing hands, physical distancing, spacing, and “ensuring that you’re not in contact, close contact, ensuring that you’re not in crowds, ensuring that you’re not enclosed in those spaces.”

In a speech Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke virtually about the virus during a sustainable development goal forum in Bahrain.

“Beyond the suffering and death caused by the virus itself, the pandemic has caused severe disruptions to essential services for immunization, nutrition, non-communicable diseases, family planning, and more.

“The hard-won gains we have made in recent decades are at risk. And the impacts go far beyond health,” said Tedros.

“Livelihoods have been lost, the global economy is in recession, and geopolitical divisions have been deepened.”

Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s executive director for emergencies, had warned on Friday that the world needs to take “multilateral” and “collective global action” to take control of this virus rather than this virus controlling humanity’s destiny.

He was asked if the death toll for COVID-19 could climb to 2 million.

“If we don’t take those actions and we don’t continue to escalate and evolve the nature and scale and intensity of our cooperation — yes, we will be looking at that number and sadly, a number much higher,” he said.

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