WHO expects ‘lengthy’ coronavirus pandemic

An employee of an aid organisation shows a sample at a newly established Corona testing station in Dortmund, western Germany, on August 1, 2020, amid the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 01 August 2020

WHO expects ‘lengthy’ coronavirus pandemic

  • "The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come," the WHO's chief said
  • The novel coronavirus has killed at least 680,000 people

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Saturday warned the coronavirus pandemic was likely to be "lengthy" after its emergency committee met to evaluate the crisis six months after sounding the international alarm.
The committee "highlighted the anticipated lengthy duration of this COVID-19 pandemic", the WHO said in a statement, and warned of the risk of "response fatigue" given the socio-economic pressures on countries.
The panel gathered Friday for the fourth time over the coronavirus crisis, half a year on from its January 30 declaration of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) - the WHO's highest level of alarm.
"WHO continues to assess the global risk level of COVID-19 to be very high," said its latest statement.
"The committee highlighted the anticipated lengthy duration of this COVID-19 pandemic, noting the importance of sustained community, national, regional, and global response efforts."
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 680,000 people and infected at least 17.6 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
Unsurprisingly, the panel, comprising 18 members and 12 advisers, unanimously agreed that the pandemic still constituted a PHEIC.

Several countries around the world have imposed strict lockdowns in a bid to control the spread of the respiratory disease, plunging economies into sharp contraction.
The committee urged the WHO to provide nuanced, pragmatic guidance on COVID-19 reactions "to reduce the risk of response fatigue in the context of socio-economic pressures".
The panel urged the WHO to support countries in preparing for the rollout of proven therapeutics and vaccines.
The committee also urged the agency to accelerate research into the remaining "critical unknowns" of the virus, such as the animal source and potential animal reservoirs.
It called for improved understanding of the epidemiology and severity of COVID-19, including its long-term health effects.
And the committee wanted more light shed on the dynamics of the virus, such as "modes of transmission, shedding, potential mutations; immunity and correlates of protection".
The near six-hour gathering was hosted at the WHO's headquarters in Geneva, with some participants joining via video-link.
The committee will reconvene in three months' time.
Going into the meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic's effects would be long-lasting.
"It's sobering to think that six months ago, when you recommended I declare a PHEIC, there were less than 100 cases and no deaths outside China," he said Friday.
"The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come."
The WHO has been sharply criticised for the length of time it took to declare an international emergency.
The United States, which accused the organisation of being too close to China, officially began its withdrawal from the organisation in July.
The agency has also been criticised for recommendations deemed late or contradictory, in particular on wearing masks, or the modes of transmission of the virus.
"Many scientific questions have been resolved; many remain to be answered," Tedros said Friday.
"Most of the world's people remain susceptible to this virus, even in areas that have experienced severe outbreaks."


New Zealand records 100 days without domestic virus case but warns against complacency

Updated 09 August 2020

New Zealand records 100 days without domestic virus case but warns against complacency

  • New Zealanders have returned to normal life, but authorities are concerned that people were now refusing testing
  • New Zealand has 23 active cases in managed isolation facilities, and 1,219 COVID-19 cases in all so far

WELLINGTON: New Zealand marked 100 days without a domestic transmission of the coronavirus on Sunday, but warned against complacency as countries like Vietnam and Australia which once had the virus under control now battle a resurgence in infections.
New Zealand’s successful fight against COVID-19 has made the Pacific island nation of 5 million one of the safest places in the world right now.
New Zealanders have returned to normal life, but authorities are concerned that people were now refusing testing, not using the government contact tracing apps, and even ignoring basic hygiene rules.
“Achieving 100 days without community transmission is a significant milestone, however, as we all know, we can’t afford to be complacent,” Director-General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said.
“We have seen overseas how quickly the virus can re-emerge and spread in places where it was previously under control, and we need to be prepared to quickly stamp out any future cases in New Zealand,” he said.
New Zealand has 23 active cases in managed isolation facilities, and 1,219 COVID-19 cases in all so far.
Vietnam, which went for three months without detecting any domestic transmission, is now racing to control a new outbreak in Danang.
Neighbouring Australia’s second-biggest city, Melbourne, has gone into a six week lockdown due to a surge in cases. The second wave of cases in Melbourne has been largely a result of lapses in quarantining.
“For countries like Australia and New Zealand the source of such outbreaks is likely to be from managed isolation and quarantine facilities because of the large numbers of people held there and the multiple shifts of staff involved in looking after them,” said Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago.
There have been cases of returning New Zealanders sneaking out of quarantine, and other security slip ups.
New Zealand last week ramped up testing at quarantine facilities and clinics, and started work on technology to track people using Bluetooth technology.
Ardern kicked off her re-election campaign on Saturday calling it a ‘Covid election’.
But a resurgence of cases due to “Covid fatigue” could spark a backlash against her, and give the opposition a chance to work their way back into the election contest. (Repotring by Praveen Menon; Editing by Michael Perry)