“The sudden increases of cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning”, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.
He stated that there are now cases linked to Iran in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman and to Italy in Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Spain and Switzerland.
“Yesterday, a joint team between WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control arrived in Rome to review the public health measures that have been put in place and provide technical support”, he informed, saying that over the weekend a
WHO team will travel to Iran to provide support.
One of the biggest challenges the UN health agency faces is that too many affected countries are still not sharing data with WHO.
“WHO cannot provide appropriate public health guidance without disaggregated data and detailed line lists”, said Mr. Ghebreyesus. “We’re communicating with ministers directly, there is some improvement, and we urge all countries to share this data with WHO immediately”.
Not a pandemic
The increase in cases outside China has prompted some media and politicians to push for a pandemic to be declared.
“We should not be too eager to declare a pandemic without a careful and clear-minded analysis of the facts”, he maintained, reminding that WHO has already declared it highest level of alarm: a public health emergency of international concern.
“Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems”, he explained. “It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true”.
The head of WHO maintained that the fight can be won “if we do the right things”.
While affirming that “we will not hesitate to use the word pandemic if it is an accurate description of the situation”, Mr. Ghebreyesus said that WHO is monitoring the epidemic around the clock and engaging internal and experts on this issue and has witnessed “no sustained and intensive community transmission” of this virus, nor “large-scale severe disease or death”.
Prepare for the worst
China has fewer than 80,000 cases in a population of 1.4 billion people. In the rest of the world, there are 2,790 cases, in a population of 6.3 billion.
“Do not mistake me”, he said, “I am not downplaying the seriousness of the situation, or the potential for this to become a pandemic…every scenario is still on the table”.
The WHO chief spelled out: “The primary objective of all countries with cases must be to contain the virus”, and “all countries, whether they have cases or not, must prepare for a potential pandemic”.
Every country needs to be ready to detect cases early, to isolate patients, trace contacts, provide quality clinical care, prevent hospital outbreaks, and prevent community transmission. And WHO is providing tools to prepare, accordingly.