Wake up and halt virus | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 05, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:28 AM, July 05, 2020

Wake up and halt virus

WHO urges countries as global coronavirus cases rise to more than 11 million

The World Health Organization has urged countries hit by serious coronavirus outbreaks to "wake up" to the realities on the ground instead of bickering, and to "take control" as global coronavirus cases exceeded 11 million.

"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 on Friday hosted by the UN correspondents' association in Geneva.

Touching almost every country on Earth since it emerged in China late last year, the coronavirus has hit more than 11 million people and killed nearly 530,000 people worldwide.

The number of cases is more than double the figure for severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to the World Health Organization.

Many hard-hit countries are easing lockdowns put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus while making extensive alterations to work and social life that could last for a year or more until a vaccine is available.

Some countries are experiencing a resurgence in infections, leading authorities to partially reinstate lockdowns, in what experts say could be a recurring pattern into 2021.

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 that "too 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, he insisted that "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, hand-washing, testing, isolating cases and contact tracing.

But in areas where the virus is spreading uncontrollably, strict measures could be unavoidable, he 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," Ryan warned.

"If the health system stops coping, more people will die."

He 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 United States, Ryan meanwhile said that the numbers had "stabilised", meaning they are no longer rising as steeply, but they are "still rising".

He also stressed 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," he 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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