WHO again warns COVID-19 accelerating aggressively as countries ease lockdowns

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COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is accelerating aggressively around the world as many countries ease lockdown measures, the World Health Organization warned again on Monday.

More than 10 million people have contracted the deadly bug and over 500,000 fatalities have been recorded, according to the latest data released by the WHO.

Speaking from Geneva, Switzerland, the WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic is “speeding up” globally even though some countries have made some progress.

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“We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives, but the hard reality is that this is not even close to being over,” he said.

He said some “countries have now experienced a resurgence of cases as they start to reopen their economies and societies”, adding that “most people remain susceptible. The virus still has a lot of room to move.”

The WHO data show that more than 23% of the 189,077 new cases reported globally on Sunday came from the United States followed closely by Brazil. The pandemic is also accelerating in India as well as Russia.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, new confirmed cases have been surging rapidly in the past two weeks alone. There are now close to 400,000 infections and about 10,000 fatalities in Africa.

Read WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 29 June 2020

29 June 2020

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Tomorrow marks six months since WHO received the first reports of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in China.

The six-month anniversary of the outbreak coincides with reaching 10 million cases and 500,000 deaths. 

This is a moment for all of us to reflect on the progress we have made and the lessons we have learned, and to recommit ourselves to doing everything we can to save lives. 

Six months ago, none of us could have imagined how our world – and our lives – would be thrown into turmoil by this new virus.

The pandemic has brought out the best and the worst of humanity.

All over the world we have seen heartwarming acts of resilience, inventiveness, solidarity and kindness. 

But we have also seen concerning signs of stigma, misinformation and the politicization of the pandemic. 

For the past six months, WHO and our partners have worked relentlessly to support all countries to prepare for and respond to this new virus.

Today, we are publishing an updated and detailed timeline of WHO’s response to the pandemic on our website, so the public can have a look at what happened in the past six months in relation to the response. 

It illustrates the range of WHO’s work to stop transmission and save lives. 

We have worked with researchers, clinicians and other experts to bring together the evolving science and distil it into guidance. 

Millions of health workers have enrolled in courses through our OpenWHO.org online learning platform.

We launched the Solidarity Trial, to find answers fast to which drugs are the most effective.

We launched Solidarity Flights, to ship millions of test kits and tons of personal protective equipment to many countries. 

We launched the Solidarity Response Fund, which has raised more than US$223 million for the response.

Three major innovative solidarity activities.

And we have worked with the European Commission and multiple partners to launch the ACT Accelerator, to ensure that once a vaccine is available, it’s available to everyone – especially those who are at greatest risk.

On Friday we launched the ACT Accelerator Investment Case, which estimates that more than US$31 billion will be needed to accelerate the development, equitable allocation and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics by the end of next year.

Over the weekend, WHO was proud to partner in the “Global Goal: Unite for Our Future” pledging conference, organized by the European Commission and Global Citizen. 

The event mobilized new resources to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic globally, including in support of the ACT Accelerator.

Although a vaccine will be an important long-term tool for controlling COVID-19, there are five priorities that every single country must focus on now, to save lives now.

First, empower communities. Every individual must understand that they are not helpless – there are things everyone should do to protect themselves and others. Your health is in your hands.

That includes physical distancing, hand hygiene, covering coughs, staying home if you feel sick, wearing masks when appropriate, and only sharing information from reliable sources.

You may be in a low-risk category, but the choices you make could be the difference between life and death for someone else. 

Second, suppress transmission. Whether countries have no cases, clusters of cases or community transmission, there are steps all countries can take to suppress the spread of the virus.

Ensure that health workers have access to training and personal protective equipment.

Improve surveillance to find cases.

The single-most important intervention for breaking chains of transmission is not necessarily high-tech and can be carried out by a broad range of professionals. It’s tracing and quarantining contacts.

Many countries actually have used non-health professionals to do contact tracing.

Third, save lives.

Early identification and clinical care saves lives.

Providing oxygen and dexamethasone to people with severe and critical disease saves lives.

And paying special attention to high-risk groups, including elderly people in long-term care facilities, saves lives.

Japan has done this: it has one of the highest populations of elderly people, but its death rate is low, and the reason is what we just said – many countries can do that, they can save lives.

Fourth, accelerate research.

We’ve already learned a lot about this virus, but there’s still a lot we don’t know – and there are still tools we need.

This week we will convene a second meeting to assess progress on research and development and re-evaluate research priorities for the next stage of the pandemic. 

And fifth, political leadership.

As we have said repeatedly, national unity and global solidarity are essential to implementing a comprehensive strategy to suppress transmission, save lives and minimize the social and economic impact of the virus. 

No matter what stage a country is at, these five priorities – if acted on consistently and coherently – can turn the tide.

WHO will continue to do everything in our power to serve countries with science, solidarity and solutions. 

The critical question that all countries will face in the coming months is how to live with this virus. That is the new normal. 

Many countries have implemented unprecedented measures to suppress transmission and save lives.

These measures have been successful in slowing the spread of the virus. But they have not completely stopped it. 

Some countries are now experiencing a resurgence of cases as they start to re-open their economies and societies.

Most people remain susceptible. The virus still has a lot of room to move.

We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. 

But the hard reality is: this is not even close to being over. 

Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up.

We’re all in this together, and we’re all in this for the long haul.

We will need even greater stores of resilience, patience, humility and generosity in the months ahead. 

We have already lost so much – but we cannot lose hope. 

This is a time for renewing our commitment to empowering communities, suppressing transmission, saving lives, accelerating research and political and moral leadership.

But it’s also a time for all countries to renew their commitment to universal health coverage as the cornerstone of social and economic development – and to building the safer, fairer, greener, more inclusive world we all want. 

I thank you.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him: simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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