World Health Organization Director-General's Opening Remarks at the Media Briefing on COVID-19 on 20 February 2020 | site |

(February 20, 2020) - - Today (February 20, 2020), The World Health Organization (WHO) made public the following WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 on 20 February 2020:

Good afternoon everyone.

Let me begin, as always, with the latest numbers.

As of 6am Geneva time this morning, China has reported 74,675 cases of COVID-19 to WHO, including 2121 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.

Outside China, there are now 1076 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.

Japan has also advised passengers to stay at home for a further 14 days and monitor their temperature, and also has set up a hotline for passengers to call if they have concerns.

Japan is in regular contact with other countries through a mechanism set up under the International Health Regulations, so those countries can follow up with their nationals who were passengers on the ship.

In addition to monitoring the evolution of the outbreak, WHO’s main role is to work with countries and partners to coordinate the global response.

We’re doing that in several ways, both internally and externally.

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 includes experts in epidemiology, virology, clinical management, outbreak control and public health from the following institutions:

The National University of Singapore;

The Saint Petersburg Pasteur Institute;

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Japan;

The Seoul National University College of Medicine, Republic of Korea;

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control;

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;

The U.S. National Institutes of Health

The Russian National Medical Research Center of Phthisiopulmonology and Infectious Diseases

And the Robert Koch Institute, of Germany.

Let me describe some of the many other ways WHO is coordinating the response.

As you know, global coordination is key in fighting a dangerous enemy like this coronavirus.

We’ve convened the WHO Health Security Council, a daily meeting of myself, our chief of emergencies, Dr Mike Ryan, the Regional Directors and other senior staff, to review the evolution of the outbreak and coordinate the response.

Yesterday we held the first of what will be weekly briefings with diplomatic missions here in Geneva, to keep our Member States informed – and we are holding these daily news briefings to keep the media informed.

Yesterday we couldn’t have the press conference because we had dedicated it to briefing Member States.

I also hold a weekly call with a range of independent experts from around the world – very senior experts – as a complement to the advice provided by the Emergency Committee.

Two weeks ago, I briefed the UN Secretary-General and we agreed to activate the United Nations Crisis Management Team, led by Dr Mike Ryan. Today we are holding a second call with UN country representatives, to brief them on the measures they can take at country level to coordinate the UN response – because what matters is the intervention we take at country level. That’s why we involve all UN resident coordinators and WHO country representatives.

Twice a week we have a call with clinical experts who are treating patients with COVID-19, including front-line workers in China, to share information about the progression of disease and what works and what doesn’t in treatment.

We’ve also set up an online platform where clinicians can share anonymized 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 prioritized by the WHO R&D 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.

My colleague Janet Diaz is here to answer questions about the clinical management of patients, because even if people are infected, having better outcomes and saving their lives is key.

I’ve written to 12 chief executives of 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.

Today we had a call with faith-based organizations as another way of reaching communities with messages to prevent infection.

We’re partnering with the Africa CDC to coordinate our efforts to prepare African countries for the potential arrival of the virus. That’s where we believe that the virus could be a serious danger. That’s why we’re focusing on continents and countries where the health systems are weaker.

You will get sick of me saying that the window of opportunity remains open for us to contain this outbreak.

WHO is doing everything we can to seize that window of opportunity, and we urge the international community to do the same.

As I’ve said before, let’s not squander the window of opportunity we have. The number of cases we have in the rest of the world is less than in 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.

I thank you.