The United Nations’ health agency on Wednesday appealed to Caribbean and other countries to “double-down” on their efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, after announcing that the global emergency can now be described as a pandemic.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the announcement as “a call to action – for everyone, everywhere.”
Speaking in Geneva, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted that the fact that the term was being used did not mean that the virus had the upper hand.
“It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do”, he said, urging Caribbean and other governments to pursue containment and isolation measures to prevent the virus from spreading.
Latest WHO data indicates more than 118,000 cases of infection in 114 countries, and 4,291 deaths – a 13-fold increase outside China in the past two weeks, and a threefold rise in the number of affected countries.
With thousands more “fighting for their lives” in hospitals, Tedros noted that the toll was likely to climb in coming days and weeks.
Despite this bleak forecast, the WHO Director-General pointed out the vast majority of countries were still relatively untouched by COVID-19, which first surfaced in central China last December.
In a message released late on Wednesday, Guterres said that the new pandemic phase in the fight is “a call for responsibility and solidarity – as nations united, and as people united.”
“As we fight the virus, we cannot let fear go viral”, he said, stating that “together, we can still change the course of this pandemic – but that means addressing inaction.”
“The best science tells us, if countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response, we can go a long way to mitigating transmission,” said the UN chief, calling on every government to step up and scale up their efforts.
“As we mourn all those who have lost their lives and the many families who are suffering, we must show solidarity with the most vulnerable – the elderly, the sick, those without reliable healthcare, and those on the edge of poverty,” Guterres urged.
Ghebreyesus said in Geneva that that 81 countries have not reported any cases “so they should do everything to not import cases”.
He said another 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less, “so they can cut it from the bud”.
Briefing journalists at WHO headquarters, Ghebreyesus insisted that it would be “a mistake” for Caribbean and other countries to abandon efforts to contain the virus.
“The best way forward is the blended comprehensive approach which puts containment as a major pillar,” he said, noting that some countries were “struggling with a lack of resources”, while others were battling with their resolve.
For many countries, tackling the virus involved making enormous sacrifices, Ghebreyesus said, before underscoring his gratitude to Iran “and others for taking measures which are taking a heavy toll on societies and economies.”
Asked about whether countries should close their schools, borders and airports as a precautionary measure, Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies response, said that this is a decision for national governments.
WHO hopes that the announcement of a pandemic will focus Caribbean and other governments to adopt sufficiently stringent measures immediately.
In particular, Ghebreyesus urged countries to push ahead in four key areas: prepare and be ready, protect and treat, reduce transmission and innovate and learn.