WHO chief calls COVID-19 'enemy against humanity'
Royal Thai Army soldiers in protective gear spray disinfectant in front of bars and other entertainment venues that were forced to close on Rambuttri road in Bangkok early on March 19, 2020 amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha

WHO chief calls COVID-19 'enemy against humanity'

Nina Larson (Agence France-Presse) - March 19, 2020 - 7:12am

GENEVA, Switzerland — The head of the World Health Organization on Wednesday called the new coronavirus an "enemy against humanity", as the number of people infected in the pandemic soared past 200,000.

Worldwide fatalities topped 8,000 and more deaths have now been recorded in Europe, the new virus epicentre, than in Asia since the outbreak first emerged in China in December.

"This coronavirus is presenting us with an unprecedented threat," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in a virtual news conference.

He stressed the need for countries everywhere to "come together as one against a common enemy: an enemy against humanity."

Sub-Saharan Africa has only recorded 233 cases and four deaths, making it the least affected region.

But Tedros warned the situation could quickly shift.

"In other countries, we have seen how the virus accelerates after a certain tipping point, so the best advice for Africa is to prepare for the worst, and prepare today," he said.

"Africa should wake up."

'Solidarity trial'

Tedros said the WHO was speaking daily with decision-makers worldwide "to help them prepare and prioritise."

"Don't assume your community won't be affected. Prepare as if it will be," he said.

The WHO has called for every single suspected case to be tested.

In countries where that was not possible due to soaring numbers of infections, Tedros insisted there were measures to reduce the burden on healthcare systems and make epidemics more "manageable".

He urged states to introduce physical distancing measures, including cancelling sporting events, concerts and other large gatherings, to slow down transmission.

But Tedros added that the only way to suppress and control epidemics of the virus was for countries to "isolate, test, treat and trace."

If countries fail to do that, he said, "transmission chains can continue at a low level, then resurge once physical distancing measures are lifted."

Tedros hailed that the first vaccine trial had already begun just two months after China shared the genetic sequence of the virus, calling it "an incredible achievement."

He also said WHO was launching a "solidarity trial" of five proposed treatments for the virus across 10 countries to figure out which was most effective.

But an actual roll-out of a vaccine remains far off.

Tedros called on all countries to use a "comprehensive approach, with the aim of slowing down transmission and flattening the curve.

"This approach is saving lives and buying time for the development of vaccines and treatments."

Not just the elderly

Michael Ryan, who heads WHO's emergencies programme, cautioned against downplaying the danger of COVID-19 for younger people.

"This isn't just a disease of the elderly," he said, stressing that "a significant number of otherwise healthy adults can develop a more serious form of the disease."

He called for the close observations of "even the mild cases for any signs of clinical progression towards a more serious disease."

Maria Van Kerkhove, who heads the WHO's emerging diseases unit, stressed that while children appear to be less affected, they too risked becoming seriously ill. One child had died in China, she noted.

"We need to prepare for the possibility that children can also experience severe disease," she said.

Asked about large variations in death rates being recorded in Europe, Ryan said there were several explanations.

Germany, which has so far recorded 8,198 cases but just 12 deaths, has taken a very aggressive approach to testing he said, suggesting "they may be detecting more mild cases as a proportion of all cases."

Italy, which has recorded nearly 3,000 deaths out of more than 35,700 cases, is meanwhile further advanced in the evolution of the outbreak, he said.

At the same time, Italy's health system has been overwhelmed, with more than 1,200 intensive care patients at one point in the north of the country.

"It is an astonishing number, and the fact that they are saving so many is a miracle in itself," Ryan said.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: March 5, 2021 - 11:43am

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

March 5, 2021 - 11:43am

The United States records fewer than 40,000 new cases of Covid-19 in one day for the first time in five months on Thursday, according to the Johns Hopkins University pandemic tracker.

This number peaked at nearly 300,000 new cases on January 8 in the country hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than half a million fatalities.

But now it is back down to the levels of before Thanksgiving and Christmas, when holiday travel and gatherings in defiance of safety warnings were blamed for spreading the virus further in the US. —  AFP

March 4, 2021 - 9:38am

Brazil registers a record of Covid-19 deaths for the second straight day Wednesday, with 1,910 lives lost to the pandemic.

With a surge in cases currently pushing health systems to the limit in many areas, Brazil has recorded a total of 259,271 deaths, according to the health ministry — the second-highest death toll worldwide, after the United States.

"For the first time since the pandemic began, we are seeing a deterioration across the entire country," public health institute Fiocruz said before the latest figures were published.

"The situation is alarming." —  AFP

March 3, 2021 - 8:43am

Brazil on Tuesday registers a record 1,641 deaths in 24 hours from Covid-19, health authorities announced, as the country endures a further worsening of the pandemic.

The country of 212 million inhabitants has recorded a total of 257,361 Covid-19 deaths, according to the health ministry, and has the second-highest national death toll after the United States.

Brazil continues to have a piecemeal response, with individual cities and states setting their own policies in the face of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's repeated attacks on restrictive measures and face masks. —  AFP

March 2, 2021 - 1:42pm

Insults, beatings, arrests — health workers battling the coronavirus were subjected to more than 400 acts of violence related to COVID-19 worldwide in 2020, according to a report published Tuesday by a health NGO.

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition unveiled an interactive map that shows 1,172 violent acts and attacks occurred against health workers or facilities last year, "a minimum estimate," according to the NGO.

More than a third (412) of the acts are directly related to COVID-19, it said, citing several examples including in Mexico, where a nurse was attacked and injured by a group accusing her of spreading the virus.

In Dakar, three social workers had stones hurled at them by residents who refused to have a coronavirus victim buried near their homes.

In Birmingham, England, a health worker was spat at and insulted by a neighbor.

The vast majority, 80%, of the perpetrators of the violence were civilians, but threats also came from public authorities. — AFP

February 26, 2021 - 2:05pm

Japan will end a coronavirus state of emergency early in some regions as the pace of infection slows, reports say, less than five months before the pandemic-postponed Tokyo Olympics.

The emergency measure -- currently in force in 10 regions including Tokyo -- is looser than the strict lockdowns seen elsewhere in the world, and primarily calls for bars and restaurants to close from 8pm.

It is due to end on March 7, but the government will lift the measure this Sunday, just over a week early, in around six prefectures, the reports say. — AFP

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