The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is encouraged by data from China showing a decline in new confirmed cases of COVID-19, saying there is no time for complacency.
Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, at a media briefing on COVID-19 on Wednesday, February 19, 2020 stressed the existence of a window of opportunity for the world to contain the outbreak.
Ghebreyesus urged the international communities to leverage the opportunity, adding that the number of COVID-19 cases in the rest of the world was less than that of China.
“But that may not stay the same for long; the window of opportunity we have may close, so we need to use the window of opportunity we have to hammer the outbreak in every country,” he said.
Giving an update on the outbreak, Ghebreyesus said that as of 6.00a.m Geneva time on Feb. 20, China had reported 74, 675 cases of COVID-19 to WHO, including 2,121 deaths.
“The data from China continue to show a decline in new confirmed cases. Once again, we’re encouraged by this trend, but this is no time for complacency,” he said.
According to him, outside China, there are 1,076 cases in 26 countries, with a total of seven deaths.
“In the past 24 hours, the Islamic Republic of Iran has reported five cases, two of which have died. This is the first report from Iran.
“Of all cases outside China, more than half are among passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
“The first passengers have now disembarked, providing they have a negative test, no symptoms and no contact with a confirmed case in the past 14 days,” he said.
Ghebreyesus added that Japan had also advised passengers to stay at home for a further 14 days to monitor their temperature, and has also set up a hotline for passengers to call if they have concerns.
The director-general said that Japan was in regular contact with other countries through a mechanism set up under the International Health Regulations, to enable countries that have their nationals as passengers on the ship to follow up their progress.
Ghebreyesus noted that in addition to monitoring the evolution of the outbreak, WHO’s main role was to work with countries and partners to coordinate the global response.
“As you know, a WHO-led international team of experts is now on the ground in China, working with their Chinese counterparts to find answers to some of the things we don’t know, including the transmissibility of the virus and the impact of the measures that China has taken.
“The team has been brought together through the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, and include experts in epidemiology, virology, clinical management, outbreak control and public health from the following institutions,” he said.
The director-general said that the institutions include Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC); National University of Singapore; Saint Petersburg Pasteur Institute; National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Japan; and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others.
According to him, global coordination is key in fighting a dangerous enemy like coronavirus.
He noted that twice a week, WHO gets update from clinical experts treating patients with COVID-19, including frontline workers in China, to share information about the progression of the disease, what works and what doesn’t in treatment.
“We’ve also set up an online platform where clinicians can share anonymised patient data, so we can build a clearer picture of the disease.
“What we’re seeing is that the earlier patients are tested and treated, the better they do.
“We’re also looking forward to results from two clinical trials of therapeutics prioritised by the WHO Research and Development Blueprint.
“One combines two drugs for HIV, lopinavir and ritonavir, and the other is testing an antiviral called remdisivir.
“We expect preliminary results in three weeks,” he said.
Ghebreyesus disclosed that he had written 12 manufacturers of personal protective equipment, to seek their cooperation to ensure supply to protect health workers.
“There is a positive signal from the manufacturers. This is, as I always say, a time for solidarity: governments, the private sector and the whole world should stand in unison,” he said.
The WHO official added that he had called different faith-based organisations as another way of reaching communities with messages to prevent infection.
Ghebreyesus noted that WHO had partnered with the Africa CDC to coordinate efforts to prepare African countries for the potential arrival of the virus, adding that it believes that the virus could pose a serious danger there.
By Oluwafunke Ishola