COVID-19 remains number one public enemy, WHO warns govts

  • Top health official cautions on politicising schools reopening
  • ‘8,000 health workers infected with virus’

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General, World Health Organisation (WHO) has said COVID-19 remains public enemy number one, but that the actions of many governments and people do not reflect this.

Ghebreyesus stated this at a news conference at the WHO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland as COVID-19 cases rose to 13 million globally in five days.

“Let me be blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction. The virus remains public enemy number one, but the actions of many governments and people do not reflect this; the only aim of the virus is to find people to infect. Mixed messages from leaders are undermining the most critical ingredient of any response: trust,” he said.

According to him, the situation will get worse if governments do not clearly communicate with their citizens and roll out comprehensive strategies focused on suppressing transmission and saving lives.

“If populations do not follow the basic public health principles of physical distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, coughing etiquette and staying at home when sick; if the basics aren’t followed, there is only one way this pandemic is going to go. It’s going to get worse and worse; but it does not have to be this way.

“Every single leader, every single government and every single person can do their bit to break chains of transmission and end the collective suffering. I am not saying it’s easy; it’s clearly not; I know that many leaders are working in difficult circumstances.

I know that there are other health, economic, social and cultural challenges to weigh up,” he said.

This was as Dr Michael Ryan, a senior World Health Organisation (WHO) official, called for comprehensive, data-driven COVID-19 public health strategies and not a politically-driven decision-making process as schools reopen.

Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said this while responding to questions from reporters at the regular WHO news briefing in Geneva.

He said: “We can’t play Whack-a-mole. We need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

The senior official said that the topic of schools reopening had become a “political football,” which was not fair on children.

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“Decisions must be made on data, and an understanding of the risks. There needs to be a sustained commitment on suppressing the virus. If we can suppress it, then, schools can open safely.”

Also, responding to a question on the United States Government’s decision to begin formal withdrawal from the WHO, Ryan said that the UN health agency was focused on “controlling the pandemic, reducing mortality and suppressing transmission.”

He said WHO had been dealing with many other situations, including health crises in Syria and Yemen, and Ebola and plague outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In spite of the U.S. withdrawal, Ryan expressed hope that the Organisation would be able to continue to collaborate with U.S.-based colleagues over the coming years.

Ghebreyesus, meanwhile, said 230,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported to WHO as at July 12, and almost 80 per cent of those cases were reported from just 10 countries, and 50 per cent came from just two countries.

“Although, the number of daily deaths remains relatively stable, there is a lot to be concerned about. All countries are at risk of the virus, as you know, but not all countries have been affected in the same way.”

In another development, WHO said no fewer than 8,000 health workers have been infected with COVID-19 in Africa.

WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, disclosed this on its official Twitter account @WHOAFRO on Tuesday.

“This is why Infection Prevention Control (IPC) awareness is vital for all. WHO and partners have trained more than 50,000 health workers to protect themselves and patients. The organisation aims to reach over 200,000 in 2020,” it said.

South Africa is the hardest-hit country with 287,796 confirmed cases and 4,172 deaths, followed by Nigeria with 33,153 cases and 774 deaths while Ghana reported 24,988 cases with 139 deaths.

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