World Health Organization Director-General's Opening Remarks at the Media Briefing on COVID-19 on 21 February 2020| site |

(February 21, 2020) - - Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) made public the following WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 on 21 February 2020:

Good afternoon everyone.

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

As of 6am Geneva time this morning, China has reported a total of 75,567 cases of COVID-19 to WHO, including 2,239 deaths.

In the past 24 hours, China has reported 892 new confirmed cases, and 118 deaths.

The significant decline in new confirmed cases is partly due to another change in the way China reports numbers.

As you know, last week China started reporting clinically-diagnosed cases, in addition to laboratory-confirmed cases.

They have now switched back to reporting only suspected and lab-confirmed cases.

This may indicate that the health system in Wuhan have regained the ability to test all suspected cases.

As a result, some cases that had been clinically-confirmed have now been subtracted from the total because they have tested negative.

Although the number of cases in Hubei province continues declining, we are concerned about an increase in the number of cases in Shandong province, and we are seeking more information about that.

Outside China, there are now 1152 cases in 26 countries, and 8 deaths.

Although the total number of cases outside China remains relatively small, we are concerned about the number of cases with no clear epidemiological link, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case.

Apart from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the Republic of Korea now has the most cases outside China, and we’re working closely with the government to fully understand the transmission dynamics that led to this increase.

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

WHO has supplied testing kits, and will continue to provide further support.

Our concern continues to be the potential for COVID-19 to spread in countries with weaker health systems.

Tomorrow I will address an emergency meeting of African health ministers, held jointly by the African Union and the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, the WHO-led joint mission in China has been working in Beijing, Sichuan and Guangdong, and will travel to Wuhan tomorrow to continue its work at the epicenter of the outbreak.

We are working with all partners under the GOARN network to safeguard the health of the members of the team, and to take appropriate measures when they return to their countries of origin.

I’m also pleased to announce that today we are appointing six special envoys on COVID-19, to provide strategic advice and high-level political advocacy and engagement in different parts of the world.

I’m pleased that the following eminent individuals have accepted my invitation to act in this role:

Professor Dr Maha El Rabbat, former Minister of Health of Egypt;

Dr David Nabarro, former special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change;

Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention;

Dr Mirta Roses, former Director of the WHO Region of the Americas;

Dr Shin Young-soo, former Regional Director of the WHO Region of the Western Pacific;

And Professor Samba Sow, Director-General of the Center for Vaccine Development in Mali.

As I said yesterday, WHO’s key role is coordinating the global response to the epidemic, and our new special envoys will help us to do that.

This is another step we are taking to take advantage of the window of opportunity we have to contain this outbreak.

Once again, the measures 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 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.

I thank you.