Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Geneva: With the declaration that the novel Coronavirus is 10 times deadlier than the 2009 swine flu, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on countries to slowly lift control measures.

“We know that COVID-19 spreads fast, and we know that it is deadly – 10 times deadlier than the 2009 flu pandemic,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The WHO DG made the declaration on Monday during a virtual briefing.

With some countries and communities under several weeks of social and economic restrictions in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, Ghebreyesus urged countries to be measured when phasing out restrictions.

“While COVID-19 accelerates very fast, it decelerates much more slowly. In other words, the way down is much slower than the way up.

“That means control measures must be lifted slowly, and with control. It cannot happen all at once,” he said.

Ghebreyesus stressed that control measures can only be lifted if the right public health measures are in place, including significant capacity for contact tracing.

While some countries are considering how to ease restrictions, others are considering whether to introduce them – especially many low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“In countries with large poor populations, the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions used in some high-income countries may not be practical.

“Many poor people, migrants and refugees are already living in overcrowded conditions with few resources and little access to health care,” said Ghebreyesus.

With these concerns facing countries, WHO called on each government to assess its situation, while protecting all its citizens, especially the most vulnerable.

To support countries in making these decisions, WHO will today publish its updated strategic advice.

The new strategy summarises the lessons learned and charts the way forward.

The strategy includes six criteria for countries as they consider lifting restrictions.

“First, that transmission is controlled. Second, that health system capacities are in place to detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact.

“Third, that outbreak risks are minimised in special settings like health facilities and nursing homes. Fourth, that preventive measures are in place in workplaces, schools and other places where it’s essential for people to go,” said Ghebreyesus

Fifth, that importation risks can be managed and sixth, that communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to adjust to the “new norm”.

“Every country should be implementing a comprehensive set of measures to slow down transmission and save lives, with the aim of reaching a steady state of low-level or no transmission,” said Ghebreyesus.

WHO urged countries to strike a balance between measures that address the mortality caused by COVID-19, and by other diseases due to overwhelmed health systems, as well as the socio-economic impacts.