Coronavirus COVID-19 risk increased to ‘very high’ but containment still possible

Coronavirus COVID-19 risk increased to 'very high' but containment still possible thumbnail
Countries must act quickly and robustly to contain the coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic, the World Health Organization said on Friday, as it raised the global risk assessment of the infection to “very high”. The development comes as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed data showing that in the past 24 hours, China had recorded its lowest…

Countries must act quickly and robustly to contain the
coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic, the World Health Organization said on Friday, as
it raised the global risk assessment of the infection to “very high”.

The development comes as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed
data showing that in the past 24 hours, China had recorded its lowest number of
cases in more than a month (329), with 78,959 cases in total.

More than 36,000 people have also recovered from
COVID-19 in China alone, WHO said.

Fear, rumour and stigma the greatest enemy

Speaking to the international press on Friday,  UN chief
António Guterres called on all governments to step up and do everything
possible to contain the disease, without stigmatization, and respecting human
rights, and appealed for solidarity, and full global support.

Echoing the words of Tedros, the Secretary-General
emphasized the importance of preparation, rather than panic, and declared that
the “greatest enemy right now is not the virus.  It’s fear, rumors and
stigma”.

Global spread continues

The rest of the world has continued to show an uptick
in infections, however, with 4,351 cases confirmed in 49 countries and 67
deaths as of 6am in Geneva.

Tedros said that although the increase in the number
of cases and affected countries in recent days was concerning, there was no
evidence of the virus spreading freely in communities.

He added that 24 cases of infection had been exported
from Italy to 14 countries and 97 cases had found their way from Iran to 11
countries.

“The continued increase in the number of cases and the
number of affected countries over the last few days are clearly of concern,” he
said. “Our epidemiologists have been monitoring these developments continuously
and we have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of
impact of COVID-19 to very high at global
level.”          

First sub-Saharan case in
Africa

In Nigeria, where the first case of infection has been
confirmed and isolated, the UN agency said it had “great confidence” that the
country could contain the virus.


This was thanks to the fact that the country has had success in dealing with
other disease outbreaks, such as Lassa fever and measles – and it had invested
significantly to do so – said WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s Health
Emergencies Programme.

Currently, more than 20 vaccines are in development
around the world, along with several therapeutic medicines; the first results
were expected within weeks, Tedros said.

Personal responsibility is
critical

In the meantime, the best thing people can do is to be
diligent about their personal hygiene, the UN health agency chief insisted, and
look out for symptoms, which include a dry cough and fever, rather than a runny
nose.

The preventative health advice is particularly
important with regard to handwashing with soap or alcohol gels, sneezing or
coughing into a tissue or the crook of your arm, and staying at home if you
feel poorly.  

Explaining the implications of the latest threat
assessment, Dr Ryan said that while it was the highest level of alert, the aim
was to encourage countries to act, rather than alarm them.

“We need to keep this virus slowed down, because
health systems around the world – and I mean North and South – are just not
ready…the risk of spread has clearly increased but the risk of impact has also
increased because of what we see in health systems around the world.

Time to act is now

“It’s time to prepare, it’s time to get ready. It’s
time to act and people need to take a reality check now and really understand
that an all-of-government and an all-of-society approach (is required). It’s time to act.”

Echoing the need for aggressive action such as that
implemented by China, WHO’s Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove noted that other countries
which had followed its lead has seen similar successes in containing the virus,
resulting in valuable breathing space for their health systems.

“In Singapore, you look at what has happened in terms
of the cases they have had; they’re now seeing a rapid decline in cases. You
see what happened in Nepal, there was an onward transmission there. You see
what’s happened in Viet Nam, where there were some cases and now there’s no
further cases”, she said. “These are all examples of where countries have been
successful in containing this.”

She added: “The point is, the earlier we act…and how
robustly in those initial cases, will determine if you’re dealing with a number
of cases, one case, or a small cluster, or if you’re dealing with hundreds or
thousands.”

Read More