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1 Million Coronavirus Cases Have Now Been Reported Worldwide

Countries around the world have now reported more than 1 million coronavirus cases, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow. The respiratory disease has killed more than 51,000 people and is found in at least 181 countries and regions.

The updated numbers come from a coronavirus dashboard created by Johns Hopkins University's Whiting School of Engineering, which tracks the data in near real time.

The global case total includes some 209,000 people who have recovered from COVID-19. But the number of new cases has skyrocketed in the U.S., Italy and Spain in recent weeks, driving the outbreak to alarming new heights.

The COVID-19 pandemic is severely disrupting daily life, closing schools and businesses and forcing travel restrictions on billions of people worldwide. It is overwhelming health care systems with floods of critically ill patients. In many places, the virus is also triggering vital shortages of medical equipment and daily necessities.

"This virus, which was unknown to us three months ago, has exposed the weaknesses and inequities in our health systems and societies," World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.

The coronavirus has revealed "our lack of preparedness, and the gaps in our supply chains and other essential systems," Tedros added.

The U.S. has confirmed 234,000 cases — the most in the world — including more than 5,600 deaths. Italy has more than 115,000 cases and nearly 14,000 deaths, and Spain has more than 110,000 cases.

China, the original epicenter of the outbreak, is still reporting less than 83,000 cases. After two months of mandated lockdowns, people have finally begun to venture out from their homes. But there are also reports of mysterious second-time infections in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.

While acknowledging the rising death toll from the coronavirus, Tedros also warned that the pandemic is causing a cascade effect that, for some, will prove deadly. If over-stressed health systems fail to protect and treat patients, he said, COVID-19 will have an even more drastic effect.

"We know that when health systems are overwhelmed, mortality from vaccine-preventable and other treatable conditions will increase dramatically," Tedros said. He added, "Gaps in essential care can result in many more deaths than the coronavirus itself."

Researchers are desperately seeking a way to prevent or cure the new coronavirus, including nearly 50 potential vaccines and 25 possible antibody treatments, according to the Milken Institute's online tracking tool.

The fight against COVID-19 includes an international "Solidarity trial" that the WHO is organizing to assess potential treatments. So far, 74 countries have either joined or started the process of contributing, Tedros said on Thursday. More than 200 patients have been randomly assigned to one part of the study.

The Solidarity trial is comparing four drugs and drug combinations. The project includes the experimental Ebola drug remdesivir, the malaria drug chloroquine and the combination of lopinavir and ritonavir — two protease inhibitors that have been used to combat HIV.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.