A woman being tested for coronavirus in the United States. Photo credit US News and World Report

A woman being tested for coronavirus in the United States. Photo credit US News and World Report

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, has urged countries that had introduced “lockdown” measures to use this time to attack Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Ghebreyesus gave the advice in a speech read at a news conference in Geneva, posted on the agency’s website.

The director-general said that no fewer than 16,000 lives had been lost to the virus.

“We know we will lose more – how many more will be determined by the decisions we make and the actions we take now.

“To slow the spread of COVID-19, many countries have introduced unprecedented measures, at a significant social and economic cost. They have closed schools and businesses, cancelled sporting events and asked people to stay home and stay safe.

“We understand that these countries are now trying to assess when and how they will be able to ease these measures.

“The answer depends on what countries do while these population-wide measures are in place.

“Asking people to stay at home and shutting down population movement is buying time and reducing the pressure on health systems.

“But on their own, these measures will not extinguish epidemics. The point of these actions is to enable the more precise and targeted measures that are needed to stop transmission and save lives,’’ he said.

Ghebreyesus further advised countries that had adopted “lockdown” measures to take some actions to attack the virus.

According to him, the countries have created a second window of opportunity, but “the question is, how will you use it?

“There are six key actions that we recommend. First, expand, train and deploy your health care and public health workforce.

“Second, implement a system to find every suspected case at the community level; third, ramp up the production, capacity and availability of testing.

“Fourth, identify, adapt and equip facilities you will use to treat and isolate patients; fifth, develop a clear plan and process to quarantine contacts;

“And sixth, refocus the whole of government on suppressing and controlling the Coronavirus.’’

He said the measures were the best way to suppress and stop transmission so that when restrictions are lifted, the virus doesn’t resurge.

“The last thing any country needs is to open schools and businesses, only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence.

“Aggressive measures to find, isolate, test, treat and trace are not only the best and fastest way out of extreme social and economic restrictions – they are also the best way to prevent them.

“More than 150 countries and territories still have fewer than 100 cases.’’

By taking the same aggressive actions now, the director-general said these countries had the chance to prevent community transmission and avoid some of the more severe social and economic costs seen in other countries.

“This is especially relevant for many vulnerable countries whose health systems may collapse under the weight of the numbers of patients we’ve seen in some countries with community transmission,’’ he said.

Ghebreyesus, however, said he had joined United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Under-Secretary-General for UNOCHA Mark Lowcock and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore to launch the Global Humanitarian appeal.

The global humanitarian appeal is to support the most fragile countries who have already suffered years of acute humanitarian crises.

“This is much more than a health crisis and we are committed to working as one UN to protect the world’s most vulnerable people from the virus, and its consequences.

“We also welcome the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. We are all facing a common threat, and the only way to defeat it is by coming together as one humanity because we’re one human race.

“We are grateful to the more than 200,000 individuals and organisations who have contributed to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

“Since we launched it less than two weeks ago, the fund has raised more than US$95 million. I would like to offer my deep thanks to “GSK’’ for its generous contribution of US$10 million today.

“Although we are especially concerned about vulnerable countries, all countries have vulnerable populations, including older people,’’ he said.

The director-general said older people carried the collective wisdom of our societies.

“They are valued and valuable members of our families and communities but they are at higher risk of the more serious complications of the Coronavirus disease.

“We are listening to older people and those who work with and for them, to identify how best we can support them.

“We need to work together to protect older people from the virus and to ensure their needs are being met – for food, fuel, prescription medication and human interaction.

“Physical distance doesn’t mean social distance.

“We all need to check in regularly on older parents, neighbours, friends or relatives who live alone or in care homes in whatever way is possible, so they know how much they are loved and valued.

“All of these things are important at any time, but they are even more important during a crisis,’’ he said.

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