World Health Organization Director-General's March 4, 2020 Opening Remarks at the Mission Briefing on COVID-19| site |



(March 4, 2020) - - Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) published the following Director-General's March 4, 2020 Opening Remarks at the Mission Briefing on COVID-19:

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning and welcome once again to our weekly mission briefing on COVID-19.

Before I get to COVID-19, a few words about Ebola, the other war-front.

We have now had more than two weeks without a case of Ebola, and this is the longest period since the outbreak started, and there are currently no patients receiving treatment.

We are now counting down to the end of the outbreak. If there are no more cases, we expect the Government of DRC to declare the outbreak over on the 12th of April.

But of course, given the security situation, there could be surprises, but we don’t have any complacency and we will do everything to follow the situation.

But we are not there yet, and we continue to be on full response mode until we reach our goal.

Yesterday alone, 5262 alerts were investigated, 304 samples were analyzed and 189 people were vaccinated against Ebola.

But as you know, even as the Ebola outbreak is winding down, the epidemic of COVID-19 is becoming increasingly complex.

There is now a total of 92,943 reported cases of COVID-19 globally, and 3,160 deaths.

In the past 24 hours, China reported 120 cases. Most cases continue to be reported from Hubei province.

Outside China, 2075 cases were reported in 35 countries. Almost 90% of those cases are from just three countries.

WHO now has a team on the ground in Iran to deliver supplies and support the government in the response.

I would especially like to thank Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates for his support for the mission.

As you know, WHO has raised its assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at the global level.

As I have said before, this is a virus with serious impact on public health, the economy and social and political issues.

But at present, we see linked epidemics in several countries, where most cases can still be traced to known contacts or clusters of cases, in, although we see signs of community transmission in some countries.

Our view continues to be that containment of COVID-19 must be the top priority for all countries, but at the same time, countries should be preparing for sustained community transmission.

That’s why we’re suggesting a comprehensive approach.

With early, aggressive measures, countries can stop transmission and save lives.

WHO will continue to provide evidence-based guidance to help countries and individuals to assess and manage their risk, and make decisions.

There is no one-size fits all approach. Different countries are in different scenarios.

119 countries have not detected any cases. And of the 75 countries with cases, 47 have 10 cases or less.

Some have just reported their first cases.

Some have clusters of cases, with transmission between family members and other close contacts.

Some have rapidly expanding epidemics, with signs of community transmission.

And some have declining epidemics, and have not reported a case for more than two weeks.

Some countries have more than one of these scenarios at the same time.

WHO is advising countries on actions they can take for each of the “three Cs” scenarios – first case, first cluster, and first evidence of community transmission.

The basic actions in each scenario are the same, but the emphasis changes depending on which transmission scenario a country is in.

Our message to all countries is: this is not a one-way street. We can push this virus back.

Your actions now will determine the course of the outbreak in your country.

This must be a top priority for every country.

We are concerned that in some countries, the level of political will does not match the level of the threat we face.

Yesterday I spoke to President Sebastián Piñera of Chile about the work his government is doing to keep its people safe, even though at that time his country did not have a single case.

Chile now has its first case, but I am confident that with the President’s leadership, they are well-placed to contain the outbreak.

That is the kind of political commitment we need in every country, mobilizing the whole of government before cases even arrive, and continuing to be aggressive when cases arrive.

The report of the WHO-China Joint Mission has now been published, which includes a wealth of information, and 22 recommendations for China, for affected and unaffected countries, for the international community, and the general public.

It calls for all countries to educate their populations, to expand surveillance, to find, isolate and care for every case, to trace every contact, and to take an all-of-government and all-of-society approach – this is not a job for the health ministry alone.

WHO continues to coordinate the global response.

We have shipped nearly half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 27 countries, but supplies are rapidly depleting.

We’re working with governments, manufacturers and the Pandemic Supply Chain Network to boost production and secure supplies for critically affected and at-risk countries.

We’ve also sent hundreds of thousands of lab tests to countries in all regions.

We’re working closely with the World Economic Forum to engage with the private sector – both the health industry and beyond – to support the response.

Later today I will have a call with 500 CEOs and other senior executives to discuss how they can protect their staff, ensure business continuity and support the global response.

More than 130,000 people have been trained in various aspects of the COVID-19 response through online courses on our OpenWHO.org platform, which are available in 6 UN languages and Portuguese. More than 15 countries have translated these courses into their national languages.

We’ve published detailed guidance to support countries, businesses and individuals in managing their risk.

Yesterday we held our first meeting with our newly-appointed special envoys, and I’m impressed with their engagement and look forward to their contribution within their regional contexts.

Several of them are with us today, and I’m delighted to welcome:

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

Dr David Nabarro, former special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the SDGs;

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, and former Minister of Health of Mali.

Our other two envoys could not be with us today:

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

And Dr Mirta Roses, former Director of the WHO Region of the Americas.

We are also encouraged by the signs of financial support for the response.

There are now pledges of US$289 million for WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. We thank all Member States and partners who have contributed.

You’ll hear more about our preparedness and response plan at country level from my colleagues.

We’re delighted that the World Bank has committed $US12 billion to support at-risk countries to prevent and interrupt transmission.

Part of these funds will go towards the Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, but part will also go towards investing in longer-term preparedness.

Although COVID-19 presents an acute threat now, it is absolutely essential that countries do not lose this opportunity to strengthen their preparedness systems.

We’re also working with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to estimate the economic impact of the epidemic.

Excellencies, friends, colleagues,

This virus is not SARS, it is not MERS and it is not influenza. The nature of this virus means we have an opportunity to break the chains of transmission and contain its spread.

At the very least, we can slow it down and buy time.

That must remain our singular focus.

I thank you.