'Test, test, test': WHO chief Tedros' coronavirus message to world

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World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says countries should "Test, test, test" for coronavirus and stick to containment strategy.
In a photo taken on Feb 28, 2020, Director General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus, in Geneva, Switzerland. PHOTO: REUTERS

ZURICH/LAUSANNE (REUTERS) - The World Health Organisation called on all countries on Monday (March 16) to ramp up their testing programmes as the best way to slow the advance of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We have a simple message to all countries - test, test, test," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference in Geneva.

"All countries should be able to test all suspected cases, they cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded," he added.

In the United States, the Trump administration has come under fire from critics for what they say has been a slow gearing up of testing for the new virus.

US Vice-President Mike Pence promised on Sunday that Americans would have access in the days ahead to more than 2,000 laboratories capable of processing tests.

With limited testing available, US officials have recorded nearly 3,000 cases and 62 deaths, and large segments of daily activities have been upended across the country. Without testing, cases could not be isolated and the chain of infection would not be broken, Tedros said.

Even countries with advanced health systems have struggled to cope with the outbreak, Tedros said, adding he was deeply concerned about its effects on low-income countries where people already struggled with malnutrition and other health problems.

The strategy to contain the disease, by finding people with infections and rapidly isolating them, was still the best approach, said the WHO chief. It had shown positive effects in China, South Korea and Singapore, he added.

Meanwhile Tedros said he was cheered by the response from governments coming forward with funding to fight the outbreak.

"It's not just the funding, it is human spirit which we see, that is fighting this virus, that is coming more strongly," he added. "I am really encouraged in the last week or so with the solid level of solidarity I see."

A senior WHO official said on Monday it will take "a change in mindset" to overcome supply shortages in things such as protective equipment and test kits to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

"We have to now seriously scale it up. It needs to become industrialised to a degree," said Paul Molinaro, in charge of operations, support and logistics at the WHO in response to a question about how countries can ramp up their efforts to fight the virus amid the shortages.

Tedros also told journalists he was working with the private sector to increase production of protective equipment, describing the current shortage as a "market failure".

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