The World Health Orgnisation (WHO) says the world is on the brink of a pandemic as the Coronavirus gains a foothold in many countries.
“The threat of a pandemic has become very real. But it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled. The bottom line is: we are not at the mercy of this virus,” said WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus at a media briefing on Monday.
Through urgent and decisive action, the WHO said countries can slow down the virus and prevent infections.
“Among those who are infected, most will recover. Of the 80 000 reported cases in China, more than 70% have recovered and been discharged.
“It’s also important to remember that looking only at the total number of reported cases and the total number of countries doesn’t tell the full story,” said Ghebreyesus.
Of all the cases reported globally so far, 93% are from just four countries. With different countries at different scenarios of the epidemic, WHO urged governments to tailor their response to the outbreak.
“It’s not about containment or mitigation – which is a false dichotomy. It’s about both.
“All countries must take a comprehensive blended strategy for controlling their epidemics and pushing this deadly virus back,” said Ghebreyesus.
WHO has consolidated 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, WHO called on countries to 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,” said Ghebreyesus.
Depending on their context, countries with community transmission could consider closing schools, cancelling mass gatherings and other measures to reduce exposure.
Ghebreyesus reiterated the fundamental elements of the response for all countries which are:
- Emergency response mechanisms;
- Risk communications and public engagement;
- Case finding and contact tracing;
- Public health measures such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and social distancing;
- Laboratory testing;
- Treating patients and hospital readiness;
- Infection prevention and control;
- An all-of-society, all-of-government approach.
The WHO commended Italy which announced a lockdown of the entire country on Monday in an effort to contain the epidemic.
“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.”