Mixed messages from some world leaders undermining COVID-19 response – WHO

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus at the coronavirus press conference in Geneva
World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus at the coronavirus press conference in Geneva

The World Health Organization (WHO) chief, Tedros Ghebreyesus, on Monday, criticised the attitude of some world leaders to the fight against the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Mr Ghebreyesus, during a virtual briefing in Geneva, said “mixed messages from leaders are undermining the most critical ingredient of any response: trust”.

He said governments need to clearly communicate with their citizens and roll out a comprehensive strategy focused on suppressing transmission and saving lives.

“Let me be blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction.

“COVID-19 remains public enemy number one, but the actions of many governments and people do not reflect this.

“The only aim of the virus is to find people to infect,” he said.

The WHO boss said if populations don’t follow the basic public health principles of preventing the spread of the virus – physical distancing, handwashing, wearing masks, coughing etiquette, staying at home when sick – there’s only one way, the pandemic is going to go.

“It’s going to get worse and worse, but it does not have to be this way,” he said.

COVID-19

Since its outbreak in Wuhan, China in December, COVID-19 has infected over 13 million and killed over 575, 000 people.

The outbreak is far from over as there is yet no cure for the disease or vaccine to prevent its spread.

While many countries especially those in Europe have combated the worst of the outbreak, many countries, such as Nigeria and some other African countries, are going through the community transmission phase.

Cases in the Americas, South Asia and some African countries have continued to increase.

The epicentre of COVID-19 remains in the Americas where more than 50 percent of the world’s cases have been recorded.

Despite this, some leaders like the US President and his Brazilian counterpart, in countries where cases of the virus are high, have insisted on not implementing some measures health experts recommended to mitigate the spread of the disease.

According to WHO data, 230,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported to WHO on Sunday.

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The data showed that “almost 80 per cent of those cases were reported from just 10 countries, and 50 per cent come from just two countries.”

Although the number of daily deaths remains relatively stable, Mr Ghebreyesus said there is a lot to be concerned about.

While all countries are at risk of the virus, not all countries have been affected in the same way.

“Every single leader, every single government and every single person can do their bit to break the chains of COVID-19 transmission and end the collective suffering.

“I am not saying it is easy; it’s clearly not. I know that many leaders are working in difficult circumstances. I know that there are other health, economic, social and cultural challenges to weigh up,” he said.

COVID-19 situation

Mr Ghebreyesus said four different scenarios are playing out as countries intensify efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

He said the first situation is countries that were alert and aware – they prepared and responded rapidly and effectively to the first cases. As a result, they have so far avoided large outbreaks.

“Several countries in the Mekong region, the Pacific, the Caribbean and Africa fit into that category.

“Leaders of those countries took command of the emergency and communicated effectively with their populations about the measures that had to be taken.

“They pursued a comprehensive strategy to find, isolate, test and care for cases, and to trace and quarantine contacts, and were able to suppress the virus.”

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Buhari, W/African leaders hold teleconference to deliberate strategy

The second situation are countries in which there was a major outbreak that was brought under control through a combination of strong leadership and populations adhering to key public health measures.

Mr Ghebreyesus said many countries in Europe and elsewhere have demonstrated that it is possible to bring large outbreaks under control.

“In both of these two situations, where countries have effectively suppressed COVID-119, leaders are opening up their societies on a data-driven, step-by-step basis, with a comprehensive public health approach, backed by a strong health workforce and community buy-in.”

“The third situation we’re seeing is countries that overcame the first peak of the outbreak, but having eased restrictions, are now struggling with new peaks and accelerating cases

“In several countries across the world, we are now seeing dangerous increases in COVID-19 cases, and hospital wards filling up again.

“It would appear that many countries are losing gains made as proven measures to reduce risk are not implemented or followed.”

He said the fourth situation are countries in the intense transmission phase of their outbreak. “In this category are some countries across the Americas, South Asia, and several countries in Africa.”

Mr Ghebreyesus said evidence from the first two situations has shown that it is never too late to bring the virus under control, even if there’s been explosive transmission.

“WHO is committed to working with all countries and all people to suppress transmission, reduce mortality, support communities to protect themselves and others, and support strong government leadership and coordination.”



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