In the previous 24 hours, almost nine times as many coronavirus cases were reported outside China as inside, but WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the spread could be halted with the right public health measures.
“We are in uncharted territory - we have never seen before a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission but at same time which can also be contained with the right measures,” Tedros told a news conference in Geneva.
“If this was an influenza epidemic, we would have expected to see widespread community transmission across the globe by now and efforts to slow it down or contain it would not be feasible.
“But containment of COVID is feasible and must remain the top priority for all countries.”
The number of COVID-19 cases in China continues to decline and on Sunday it reported 206 new infections, the lowest since Jan. 22, he said. In all, China has reported some 80,000 since the outbreak began.
Of the 8,739 cases reported by 61 countries outside China, 81% are in just four countries, he said.
Among the other 57 affected countries, 38 have reported 10 cases or fewer, 19 have reported only one case, and “a good number have already contained the virus” and reported no cases in the last two weeks, Tedros added.
Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies program, said:
“There is a very small number of countries in which we have demonstrated and established community transmission ....
“At the very minimum, containment is allowing us to significantly slow down the spread of virus, thereby giving an opportunity for health systems to prepare, for PPE (personal protective equipment) to be made available, for training to take place, for laboratories to get reagents, for laboratory technicians to be trained.”
A WHO team arrived in Iran on Monday to support authorities and deliver supplies including 100,000 diagnostic tests and protective gear for 15,000 health workers, the agency said.
Tedros, referring to moves to allow supplies to enter Iran despite sanctions over its nuclear program, said: “I would like to commend actually the statement from the United States in support of Iran.
“I think we have a common enemy now. And using health, and especially fighting this virus, as a bridge for peace is very, very important.”
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