The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on countries to act quickly and robustly to contain the coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic.
WHO on Friday raised the global risk assessment of the infection to “very high”. This is coming on the heel of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed data showing that in the past 24 hours, China had recorded its lowest number of cases in more than a month (329), with 78,959 cases in total.
More than 36,000 people have also recovered from COVID-19 in China alone, WHO said.
In an international press conference on Friday, UN chief António Guterres called on all governments to step up and do everything possible to contain the disease, without stigmatization, and respecting human rights, and appealed for solidarity, and full global support.
Corroborating Tedros, the Secretary-General emphasized the importance of preparation, rather than panic, and declared that the “greatest enemy right now is not the virus. It’s fear, rumors, and stigma”.
According to the data released there is currently 4,351 cases confirmed in 49 countries and 67 deaths as of 6 am on February 28 in Geneva.
Tedros said that although the increase in the number of cases and affected countries in recent days was concerning, there was no evidence of the virus spreading freely in communities.
He added that 24 cases of infection had been exported from Italy to 14 countries and 97 cases had found their way from Iran to 11 countries.
“The continued increase in the number of cases and the number of affected countries over the last few days are clearly of concern,” he said.
“Our epidemiologists have been monitoring these developments continuously and we have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at global level.”
There has been the first case of infection in Nigeria. The case has been confirmed and the patient has been isolated. The UN agency said it had “great confidence” that the country could contain the virus.
The agency sure because Nigeria has had success in dealing with other disease outbreaks, such as Lassa fever and measles – and it had invested significantly to do so.
Currently, more than 20 vaccines are in development around the world, along with several therapeutic medicines; the first results were expected within weeks, Tedros said.
Speaking further, The UN agency boss said in the meantime, the best thing people can do is to be diligent about their personal hygiene and look out for symptoms, which include a dry cough and fever, rather than a runny nose.
“We need to keep this virus slowed down, because health systems around the world – and I mean North and South – are just not ready…the risk of spread has clearly increased but the risk of impact has also increased because of what we see in health systems around the world.
“It’s time to prepare, it’s time to get ready. It’s time to act and people need to take a reality check now and really understand that an all-of-government and an all-of-society approach (is required). It’s time to act,” WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme said.