Wake up, take control – WHO

GENEVA: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday (Saturday in Manila) urged countries hit by serious coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) outbreaks to “wake up” to the realities on the ground instead of bickering and to “take control.”

WHO Health Emergencies Programme head Michael Ryan attends a press conference organized by Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP)

“People need to wake up. The data is not lying. The situation on the ground is not lying,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told journalists at a briefing hosted by the United Nations Correspondents Association in Geneva.

Touching almost every country on Earth since it emerged in China late last year, the coronavirus has hit at least 10.8 million people and killed 521,000 worldwide.

The Americas are the hardest-hit region, with most cases and deaths registered in the United States, and with numbers skyrocketing in several countries in Latin America.

When asked about the dire situations in nations like Brazil and Mexico, which have been
moving away from lockdowns despite ballooning numbers of infections and deaths, Ryan cautioned, “[T]oo many countries are ignoring what the data is telling them.”

“There are good economic reasons that the countries need to bring their economies back online,” he said. “It’s understandable, but you can’t ignore the problem either. The problem will not magically go away.”

While he acknowledged that countries facing explosive outbreaks had some “pretty stark choices” ahead, Ryan insisted, “It is never too late in an epidemic to take control.”

Instead of placing an entire nation under lockdown, he suggested that countries could try to break down the problem.

It could be possible to loosen restrictions in areas with lower transmission rates and still contain the outbreak through things like physical distancing, handwashing, testing, isolating cases and contact tracing, but in areas where the virus is spreading uncontrollably, strict measures could be unavoidable, Ryan said.

“If countries proceed with opening up without the capacity to cope with the likely caseload, then you end up in a worst-case scenario,” he warned. “If the health system stops coping, more people will die.”

Ryan said there could be places in Mexico and in other countries “where it may be important to slow down or to reverse some of the measures aimed at opening up society.”

“It is looking at: Can you control transmission by any other means other than transmission? If you can’t, you may not have an alternative” to lockdown.

In the case of Brazil, which counts almost 1.5 million confirmed cases, second only to the US, Ryan meanwhile said the numbers had “stabilized,” meaning they are no longer rising as steeply, but they are “still rising.”

He noted that despite “fighting a large number of cases for a long time now,” Brazil’s hospitals and intensive care units had not yet been overwhelmed.

“We want to see them intensify efforts and we want to see more progress,” Ryan said, “But we also have to pay credit to the health system in Brazil for its capacity to cope for what has been a long battle against this virus.”

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