A few months ago, much of the world was unconcerned with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, if they had heard of it at all.
Now, the virus has impacted almost every corner of the globe, and the number of confirmed cases is expected to surpass 1 million any day now, the World Health Organisation’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on April 1.
“As we enter the fourth month since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m deeply concerned about the rapid escalation and global spread of infection,” he said.
“Over the past five weeks, we have witnessed a near exponential growth in the number of new cases reaching almost every country, territory and area,” Tedros said.
“The number of deaths has more than doubled in the past week. In the next few days, we will reach 1 million confirmed cases and 50,000 deaths.”
Developing countries need support
Tedros emphasised the need for developing countries where there have been fewer reported cases – including countries in Africa, Central America, and South America – to have support in order to both prevent infections and also stop the economic, social, and political collapse that could accompany outbreaks.
“It’s critical that we ensure these countries are well-equipped to detect, test, isolate, and treat cases, and identify contacts,” Tedros said.
“I’m encouraged to see that this is occurring in many countries despite limited resources.”
He said he’s called on governments to put social welfare measures in place to protect vulnerable populations. One encouraging example is India, where the prime minister announced a $US24 billion package, including free food rations, cash transfers, and free cooking gas for the next three months.
“Many developing countries will struggle to implement social welfare programs of this nature,” Tedros said.
“For those countries, debt relief is essential to enable them to take care of their people and avoid economic collapse.”
He added that WHO, along with UNICEF and the International Federation of Red Cross, has also released new guidelines to help developing countries adapt practices like physical distancing and rigorous handwashing.
“The guidance recommends that countries set up hand-washing stations at the entrance to public buildings, offices, bus stops, and train stations, and many countries are doing it,” he said.
Tedros applauded the now-underway “solidarity trial,” which so far includes 74 countries and is testing four different drug combinations’ safety and effectiveness against COVID-19.
“Three months ago we knew almost nothing about this virus. Collectively, we have learned an enormous amount and every day, we learn more,” he said.
“WHO is committed to serving all people everywhere with the best evidence to protect their health,” Science Alert reported.