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No need to panic over the outbreak

/ 05:11 PM February 05, 2020
 Test tube with Corona virus name label is seen in this illustration taken on Jan 29, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Test tube with Corona virus name label is seen in this illustration taken on Jan 29, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

BEIJING — I have already said a lot about the outbreak of novel coronavirus, at the Executive Board yesterday and at the PBAC (Program, Budget and Administration Committee) meeting last week.

But allow me to underline a few key points.

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The latest data we have is that there are 20,471 confirmed cases in China, including 425 deaths.

Outside China there are 176 cases in 24 countries, and one death, in the Philippines.

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It’s important to underline that 99 percent of the cases are in China, and 97 percent of deaths are in Hubei province. This is still first and foremost an emergency for China.

We continue to work closely with the Chinese government to support its efforts to address this outbreak at the epicenter. That is our best chance of preventing a broader global crisis.

Of course, the risk of it becoming more widespread globally remains high. Now is the moment for all countries to be preparing themselves.

WHO is sending masks, gloves, respirators and almost 18,000 isolation gowns from our warehouses in Dubai and Accra to 24 countries who need support, and we will add more countries.

We’re sending 250,000 tests to more than 70 reference laboratories globally to facilitate faster testing.

We’re sending a team of international experts to work with their Chinese counterparts to increase understanding of the outbreak to guide the global response.

We’re convening a global research meeting next week to identify research priorities in all areas of the outbreak, from identifying the source of the virus to developing vaccines and therapeutics.

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Tomorrow, I will brief the Secretary General and the UN senior management team.

Today we held a call with all 150 WHO country offices, to discuss the measures they need to take to be ready. On Thursday we’ll have a similar briefing with all resident coordinators in the UN system.

We are also increasing our communications capacity to counter the spread of rumors and misinformation, and ensure all people receive the accurate, reliable information they need to protect themselves and their families.

And we plan to hold daily media briefings.

Today I have three key requests for Member States:

First, I call on all Member States to share detailed information with WHO – including epidemiological, clinical severity and the results of community studies and investigations. This is the responsibility of all countries under the International Health Regulations.

Of the 176 cases reported outside China so far, WHO has received complete case report forms for only 38 percent of cases. Some high-income countries are well behind in sharing this vital data with WHO. I don’t think it’s because they lack capacity.

Without better data, it’s very hard for us to assess how the outbreak is evolving, or what impact it could have, and to ensure we are providing the most appropriate recommendations.

Today I am writing to all ministers of health to request an immediate improvement in data sharing.

As I said yesterday, we can only defeat this outbreak with global solidarity, and that starts with collective participation in global surveillance. The commitment to solidarity starts with sharing information. Solidarity, solidarity, solidarity.

Second, we reiterate our call to all countries not to impose restrictions inconsistent with the International Health Regulations.

Such restrictions can have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit.

So far, 22 countries have reported such restrictions to WHO.

Where such measures have been implemented, we urge that they are short in duration, proportionate to the public health risks, and are reconsidered regularly as the situation evolves.

And third, facilitate rapid collaboration between the public and private sectors to develop the diagnostics, medicines and vaccines we need to bring this outbreak under control.

We have a window of opportunity. While 99 percent of cases are in China, in the rest of the world we only have 176 cases. That doesn’t mean that it won’t get worse. But for sure we have a window of opportunity to act. Because 176 in the rest of the world is very small, [there is] no reason to panic or fear. Of course, people are worried – they should be.

There is a window of opportunity because of the measures China has used at the epicenter, at the source. Let’s not miss this window of opportunity.

The author, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is director-general of WHO. This is his opening remarks at the technical briefing on 2019 novel coronavirus at the146th session of the Executive Board on Feb 4.

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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