COVID-19: WHO says threat of pandemic real, but it can be controlled
WHO Director-General Tedros GhebreyesusFile photo

COVID-19: WHO says threat of pandemic real, but it can be controlled

Geneva, March 10, 2020

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that, now that the coronavirus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic had become very real, but it would be the first one in history that can be controlled.

"The bottom line is: we are not at the mercy of this virus," WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing here on Monday.

"As you know, over the weekend we crossed 100,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in 100 countries. It’s certainly troubling that so many people and countries have been affected, so quickly.

"The great advantage we have is that the decisions we all make – as governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals – can influence the trajectory of this epidemic," he said.

Ghebreyesus stressed that, with decisive and early action, the world can slow down the virus and prevent infections. Among those who are infected, most will recover, he said.

He pointed out that, of the 80,000 reported cases in China, more than 70% have recovered and been discharged. He also said it was important to remember that looking only at the total number of reported cases and the total number of countries does not tell the full story.

"Of all the cases reported globally so far, 93% are from just four countries. This is an uneven epidemic at the global level. Different countries are in different scenarios, requiring a tailored response. It’s not about containment or mitigation – which is a false dichotomy. It’s about both," he said.

Ghebreyesus said all countries must take a comprehensive blended strategy for controlling their epidemics and pushing this deadly virus back.

"Countries that continue finding and testing cases and tracing their contacts not only protect their own people, they can also affect what happens in other countries and globally," he said.

He said WHO had consolidated its guidance for countries in four categories: those with no cases; those with sporadic cases; those with clusters; and those with community transmission.

"For all countries, the aim is the same: stop transmission and prevent the spread of the virus. For the first three categories, countries must focus on finding, testing, treating and isolating individual cases, and following their contacts.

"In areas with community spread, testing every suspected case and tracing their contacts becomes more challenging. Action must be taken to prevent transmission at the community level to reduce the epidemic to manageable clusters.

"Depending on their context, countries with community transmission could consider closing schools, cancelling mass gatherings and other measures to reduce exposure," he said.

Ghebreyesus said there are many examples of countries demonstrating that these measures work.

"China, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United States of America and many others have activated emergency measures. Singapore is a good example of an all-of-government approach – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s regular videos are helping to explain the risks and reassure people.

"The Republic of Korea has increased efforts to identify all cases and contacts, including drive-through temperature testing to widen the net and catch cases that might otherwise be missed. Nigeria, Senegal and Ethiopia have strengthened surveillance and diagnostic capacity to find cases quickly," he said.

Ghebreyesus said WHO had shipped supplies of personal protective equipment to 57 countries and was preparing to ship to a further 28. It had also shipped lab supplies to 120 countries, he said, adding it was working with the UN system to support countries to develop their preparedness and response plans. He also said more funds are being made available for the response.

"We are encouraged by these signs of global solidarity. And we continue to call on all countries to take early and aggressive action to protect their people and save lives. For the moment, only a handful of countries have signs of sustained community transmission. Most countries still have sporadic cases or defined clusters. We must all take heart from that.

"As long as that’s the case, those countries have the opportunity to break the chains of transmission, prevent community transmission and reduce the burden on their health systems.

"Of the four countries with the most cases, China is bringing its epidemic under control and there is now a decline in new cases being reported from the Republic of Korea. Both these countries demonstrate that it’s never too late to turn back the tide on this virus.

"The rule of the game is: never give up. We’re encouraged that Italy is taking aggressive measures to contain its epidemic, and we hope that those measures prove effective in the coming days.

"Let hope be the antidote to fear. Let solidarity be the antidote to blame. Let our shared humanity be the antidote to our shared threat," he added.


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