WHO Urges That 'Window of Opportunity' on Containing Novel Coronavirus Not Be Missed

Mark S. Lesney

February 21, 2020


As of 6 a.m. Geneva time, Feb. 21, China reported 75,567 cases of COVID-19 and 2,239 deaths, including a total of 892 new confirmed cases that were reported in China in the past 24 hours, with 118 deaths, stated Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, MD, World Health Organization Director-General, in a Feb. 21 news conference on the COVID-19 outbreak.

What he described as "the significant decline in newly reported cases" is partly because of a change in reporting in which China switched from including "clinically diagnosed" cases to reporting only "suspected" and "laboratory confirmed cases." The reporting procedure changed because the medical facilities in Wuhan regained the capability of checking all suspected cases with laboratory tests. As a result, some cases that were clinically confirmed were subtracted from the total because they tested negative, said Dr. Ghebreyesus.

Although the number of cases in Hubuei province continues to decline, the WHO is concerned about an increase seen in Shandong province and they are seeking more information. Outside China, there are now 1,152 cases in 26 countries and eight deaths. "Although the number of cases outside of China remains small, we are concerned about the cases with no clear epidemiological link, such as travel history to China, or contact with a confirmed case," said Dr. Ghebreyesus. "Apart from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the Republic of Korea now has the most cases outside China, and we are working closely with that government to understand the transmission dynamics that led to this increase."

"We are also concerned about the increase of cases in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where there are now 18 cases and four deaths in just the past 2 days."

"Our particular concern is for COVID-19 to spread in countries with weaker health systems," he said, adding that tomorrow, he will address an emergency meeting of African health ministers held jointly by the African Union and the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on dealing with COVID-19.

Dr. Ghebreyesus also announced that today the WHO has designated six special envoys on COVID-19 to provide strategic advice and high-level political advocacy and engagement in different parts of the world.

In his remarks, Dr. Ghebreyesus particularly stressed that: "The measures that China and other countries have taken have given us a fighting chance of containing the spread of the virus. We call on all countries to continue their commitment for containment measures, while preparing for community transmission if it occurs. We must not look back and regret that we failed to take advantage of the window of opportunity that we have now."

In the question and answer period, Dr. Ghebreyesus specifically addressed the issue of misinformation and conspiracy theories being promulgated by certain individuals and on social media about the source of the virus, especially those people who believe that it was designed in a Chinese virus laboratory. Scientists play an important role in refuting such particular misinformation, he said, and research must continue to track down the actual source in nature.

To that regard, a paper published online in the Lancet on Feb. 19, provided a consensus statement by more than 25 health scientists outside of China stating: "We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. Scientists from multiple countries have published and analyzed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens."

The WHO issues daily coronavirus disease (COVID-2019) situation reports on its website and provides these telebriefing updates daily.

This story originally appeared on MDedge.com.


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