World Health Organization says Covid-19 may kill 0.6% of all patients

World Health Organization warns there ‘may never be a silver bullet’ for Covid-19 and says the disease kills around 0.6% of all infected patients

  • Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said scientists may never find a vaccine
  • He said that for now stopping Covid-19 outbreaks ‘comes down to the basics’
  • Officials believe the infection kills 0.6% of all patients — or one in every 167
  • It makes it six times deadlier than the flu and almost as twice as fatal as polio

There may never be a ‘silver bullet’ for treating Covid-19, according to the head of the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Countries around the world are locked in a race against time to test and produce a safe and effective vaccine for the coronavirus.

But Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the UN agency, said today that scientists may never find one that works. 

He said for now, stopping outbreaks ‘comes down to the basics’, urging nations to continue with test, trace and isolate schemes. 

It comes as the WHO’s top epidemiologist today said the infection kills 0.6 per cent of all patients — making it six times deadlier than seasonal flu.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove admitted the estimate ‘may not sound like a lot but it is quite high’, killing one in 167 people. 

Official statistics show the pandemic already killed almost 700,000 people since it began in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December.

But the estimated mortality rate suggests 115million people worldwide have had the virus — nearly seven times more than the current figure of 17.6m. 

Officials believe Covid-19 kills 0.6 per cent of all patients or one in every 200. Although it sounds minimal, it means Covid-19 is six times deadlier than the flu and almost as twice as fatal as polio

Researchers are hopeful a potential vaccine will be proven to work, allowing it to be administered to the global population.

Russia’s health minister announced at the weekend that the country is planning a mass vaccination campaign for October.

Dr Tedros noted a number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials — the last stage of human testing.

The forerunners include Oxford University, which is still confident it could have some form of vaccine by the end of this year, and US-based firm Moderna.

But experts have repeatedly dampened expectations, warning that it won’t be until 2021 at the earliest that a jab could be ready. 

In a media briefing today, Dr Tedros asked recommended countries participate in relevant clinical trials, and prepare for ‘vaccine introduction’.

He said: ‘We learn every day about this virus and I’m pleased that the world has made progress in identifying treatments that can help people with the most serious forms of Covid-19 recover.

‘Over the past week we’ve seen several countries that appeared as though they were past the worst now contending with fresh spikes in cases.

‘However, we’ve also seen how some countries, regions or localities that had a high number of cases are now bringing the outbreak under control.

‘A number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection.’

Dr Tedros added: ‘However, there is no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be.

‘For now, stopping outbreaks comes down to the basics of public health and disease control.

‘Testing, isolating and treating patients, and tracing and quarantining their contacts. Do it all.

‘For individuals, it’s about keeping physical distance, wearing a mask, cleaning hands regularly and coughing safely away from others. Do it all.’



World Health Organization officials believe the infection fatality rate of Covid-19 is 0.6 per cent based on various studies, or one in 200 patients.

At a virtual news briefing from the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva on August 3, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for coronavirus response said the figure ‘may not sound like a lot, but it is quite high’.


A review of antibody surveillance studies suggests the coronavirus has a mortality rate of 0.25 per cent, meaning it kills one in every 400 people who get it.

The new estimate was based on figures from 23 different testing surveys carried out worldwide, which suggested the actual mortality rate ranged from as low as 0.02 to as high as 0.78 per cent.

They measured antibodies in the blood, a sign of past infection, which may be more reliable than estimating how many people have been infected.


A study from Harvard University found that the death rate on the Diamond Princess ship was 0.5 per cent. The cruise ship is ideal for studying because there is complete data available for everyone on board at the time there was an outbreak.

The team found the fatality rate was 1.8 per cent – 13 deaths out of 712 cases – but the rate was adjusted to 0.5 per cent to reflect the general population.


Most coronavirus modelling, including the grim Imperial College London projection that warned 500,000 Brits could die without action and convinced ministers to impose a lockdown, are based on a death rate of around 1 per cent. 

In folklore, a silver bullet is a weapon which can kill a werewolf or vampire and the term has evolved to mean a miraculous and simple fix to a difficult problem. 

In several nations, cases of Covid-19 are accelerating rapidly, particularly Brazil, the US and India. 

The US yesterday recorded 67,000 new cases out of a total of 262,000, followed by 54,000 in India and 52,000 in Mexico.

And elsewhere, countries that appeared as though they were past the worst are now facing fresh spikes in cases, including the UK.  

It is challenging to measure Covid-19’s fatality rate because it isn’t clear exactly how many people have actually had the virus. 

Millions would have had the disease and not been tested due to a lack of capacity in the early days of the crisis.

Dr Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for the coronavirus response, said various scientific teams are working out the mortality rate of Covid-19.

At a virtual news briefing in Geneva today, she said: ‘Right now, we don’t know how many people have been infected.

‘There are challenges with surveillance in detecting every single one of the cases, and certainly there are many unrecognized cases.’ 

But Dr Van Kerkhove revealed that some studies have estimated the infection fatality ratio to be around 0.6 per cent.  

She said: ‘We must do everything we can to prevent ourselves, and those individuals, from getting infected.’

Previous estimations had put the mortality rate at around 0.8 per cent. Cambridge University academics believe it could even be as high as 1.4 per cent.

Studies have shown that the coronavirus, scientifically called SARS-CoV-2, poses a much greater threat to older people, however. 

For example, Cambridge experts believe the virus kills 13 per cent of over-75s but the death rate is no higher than 0.024 for anyone under the age of 45 — the equivalent of killing one in 4,167 people. 

Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said 0.6 per cent is ‘just over one in 200 people infected, potentially dying’.

He compared this number with the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, where ‘it was more like one in 10,000 or one in 100,000’, giving a ‘sense of just how more deadly’ Covid-19 is.   

Dr Ryan said countries with high transmission rates needed to brace for a big battle. ‘The way out is long and requires a sustained commitment,’ he said. 

Six months ago the WHO decided the Covid-19 outbreak constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Health bosses made the decision on January 30, when there were fewer than 100 cases outside of China and zero deaths.

Dr Tedros said: ‘When the Committee met three months ago, three million cases of Covid-19 had been reported to WHO, and more than 200,000 deaths.

‘Since then, the number of cases has increased more than five-fold to 17.5million, and the number of deaths has more than tripled, to 680,000.

‘We know from serology studies that most people remain susceptible to this virus, even in areas that have experienced severe outbreaks.

‘Over the past week we’ve seen several countries that appeared as though they were past the worst now contending with fresh spikes in cases. 

‘We have seen around the world, that it’s never too late to turn this pandemic around.’   

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