10% of the world may have been infected by COVID-19, WHO official says

EL CENTRO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 21: Clinicians care for a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at El Centro Regional Medical Center in hard-hit Imperial County on July 21, 2020 in El Centro, California. Imperial County currently suffers from the highest death rate and near-highest infection rate from COVID-19 in California. The rural county, which is 85 percent Latino, borders Mexico and Arizona and endures high poverty rates and air pollution while also being medically underserved. In California, Latinos make up about 39 percent of the population but account for 55 percent of confirmed coronavirus cases amid the pandemic. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

(CNN) — The novel coronavirus may have infected about one in 10 people globally, meaning the majority of the world remains vulnerable to Covid-19, a World Health Organization official has said.

“Our current best estimates tell us that about 10% of the global population may have been infected by this virus,” Dr. Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said at a WHO executive board meeting Monday.

“This varies depending on country, it varies from urban to rural, it varies between different groups. But what it does mean is that the vast majority of the world remains at risk,” Ryan added.

There are more than 35.5 million confirmed Covid-19 cases globally, according to the widely-used Johns Hopkins University dashboard, but WHO and other experts say that is almost certainly an enormous undercount. Over the summer, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said cases in the US had likely been undercounted by at least 90%.

With a global population of about 7.7 billion people, Ryan’s estimate would mean about 770 million have been infected — but most have not been diagnosed or counted.

Ryan noted Monday that Southeast Asia continues to see a surge in cases, while Europe and Eastern Mediterranean regions were seeing an increase in cases and deaths. However, he noted that the situation in Africa and the Western Pacific was “currently rather more positive.”

Worldwide, countries are struggling to contain resurgent outbreaks and are reintroducing measures in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

“We are now heading into a difficult period. The disease continues to spread,” Ryan said.

Only four European countries are now measuring below a crucial level of Covid-19 cases, according the latest figures Monday, with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s (ECDC) warning in its latest risk assessment the risk of Covid-19 is high, with a very high probability of infection, while vulnerable individuals face a “very high impact” from the disease.

Overall cases in the US are on the rise as well, with the country reporting more than 50,000 daily cases on Friday and Saturday. The last time the US saw more than 50,000 cases back to back was in mid-August, and the country’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that the country is still behind on testing.