A World Health Organization (WHO) official says its "best estimates" show that the new coronavirus may have infected about one in 10 people worldwide.
Michael Ryan is a doctor and the head of emergencies at the United Nations' health agency. He was speaking on Monday at a special meeting of the agency's executive board dealing with COVID-19. The group's 34 member countries provide much of the money used to pay for WHO operations.
Dr. Ryan told the meeting the infection rates vary from cities to rural areas, and between different groups. And he said the new estimate means "the vast majority of the world remains at risk."
"Our current best estimates tell us that about 10 percent of the global population may have been infected by this virus," he said.
Ryan added that the worldwide spread of COVID-19 would continue to develop. He said that tools exist to suppress the spread of the virus and added, "...many more lives can be protected."
Also attending the meeting was WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. He led a moment of silence to honor victims of COVID-19. He also expressed his support for the health workers who have worked to save lives.
Ryan noted that Southeast Asia faced a rise in coronavirus cases. He also said that Europe and the eastern Mediterranean area are seeing an increase in deaths. The situations in Africa and the Western Pacific were "rather more positive," he added.
The new WHO estimate would mean that more than 760 million people have already been infected, based on the current world population. That number is far greater than the number of confirmed cases counted by both the WHO and Johns Hopkins University. Their official count is more than 35 million worldwide.
Experts have long said that the number of confirmed cases is much smaller than the true number.
Dr. Margaret Harris, a WHO spokesperson, said the new number was based on the average of antibody studies done around the world.
Harris said the estimated 90 percent of people remaining without infection means the virus has "opportunity" to spread more "if we don't take action to stop it." She noted the importance of contact-tracing and health officials closely following the movement and spread of cases.
I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.