WHO praises Singapore's response to coronavirus outbreak

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WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a coronavirus press conference in Geneva on Feb 17, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

GENEVA (REUTERS) - World Health Organisation (WHO) officials on Tuesday (Feb 18) praised the efforts of Singapore in tackling cases of coronavirus and said other countries should follow its example.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had spoken on Monday with Singapore Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

"We are very impressed with the efforts they are making to find every case, follow up with contacts, and stop transmission," said Dr Tedros.

"Singapore is leaving no stone unturned, testing every case of influenza-like illness and pneumonia, and so far they have not found evidence of community transmission."

He said he also spoke to Malaysia's health minister to discuss the Westerdam cruise ship case, which saw an 83-year-old American woman test positive for coronavirus upon arrival in Malaysia, after the ship docked in Cambodia and passengers were cleared to travel. He said he had discussed other aspects of Malaysia's virus preparations with the minister.

"These signals show the importance of all countries being ready for the arrival of the virus, to treat patients with dignity and compassion, to protect health workers and to prevent onward transmission," he said.

Dr Tedros said that many countries were taking steps to prepare themselves, and that WHO had sent supplies of personal protective equipment to 21 countries and would ship supplies to a further 106 countries in the coming weeks.

WHO executive director Michael Ryan said China was taking the right strategic approach in tackling the virus, despite its measures possibly appearing "excessive or restrictive". China has ordered people returning to the country's capital, Beijing, to quarantine themselves for 14 days, and the epicentre of the virus outbreak, the city of Wuhan, is on lockdown.

"There is an awful lot at stake here in terms of public health and in terms of, not only the public health of China, but also of all people in the world," he said.

"So, what we like to see are well thought-out, evidence-based public health measures that pay due respect to people's individual liberty and individual human rights. Finding that balance is sometimes difficult.

"But right now, the strategic and tactical approach in China is the correct one... And also the strategic and tactical approach of places like Singapore. We are seeing countries, more and more, having very directed, well-planned operations to detect this virus, contain it, stop it, and slow down its spread.

"We want all countries to take that sort of public health evidence-driven approach in the coming days and weeks."

Chinese officials reported 1,886 new cases on Tuesday - the first time the daily figure has fallen below 2,000 since Jan 30 - bringing the mainland China total to 72,436.

A figure of 98 new deaths marked the first time the daily toll in China had fallen below 100 since Feb 11, bringing the total to 1,868.

Dr Tedros said Chinese data "appears to show a decline in new cases" but any apparent trend "must be interpreted very cautiously".

Outside China, there have been 827 cases of the disease, known as Covid-19, and five deaths, according to a Reuters count based on official statements. More than half of those cases have been on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan.

Dr Tedros said there had been 92 cases of human-to-human spread of the coronavirus in 12 countries outside China, but the WHO did not have the data to make meaningful comparisons to what was going on in China.

"We have not seen sustained local transmission of coronavirus except in specific circumstances like the Diamond Princess cruise ship," he said.

China says figures indicating a slowdown in new cases in recent days show that the aggressive steps it has taken to curb travel and commerce are slowing the spread of the disease beyond central Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan.

The WHO's Dr Ryan said China had had success with "putting out the fire" first in Hubei and ensuring that people returning to Beijing from the Chinese New Year holidays are monitored.

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