Coronavirus outbreak

Too many nations not doing enough to fight crisis: WHO

Chief of global health body laments response to virus, urges whole-of-govt approach

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a daily press briefing at the WHO headquaters on March 6, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA • The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that too many countries are not taking all the steps needed to fight the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was concerned that a "long list" of countries were not showing "the level of political commitment" needed to "match the level of the threat we all face".

"This is not a drill," Dr Tedros told reporters on Thursday.

"This epidemic is a threat for every country, rich and poor," he said, warning that "even the high-income countries should expect surprises".

He lamented that a number of countries did not appear to be taking the threat seriously enough, with many relegating the han-dling of the coronavirus crisis to their health ministries.

That approach was wrong, he said, pointing out that the crisis was affecting all parts of society, and called for a whole-of-government approach.

He urged the heads of government in every country to take charge of the response and co-ordinate all sectors. What is needed, he said, is "aggressive preparedness".

Dr Tedros also rejected the assertion by some that the outbreak has reached pandemic proportions, insisting: "We are not yet there."

He told a news briefing: "If we get there, we will say it - no problem at all, based on science and evidence."

Remote video URL

He said containing the outbreak was still possible, and that should be the main focus of the response.

"This is not a time to give up. This is not a time for excuses," he added. "This is a time for pulling out all the stops."

The WHO has launched a new social media campaign, Be Ready for Covid-19, which urges people to be safe, smart and informed.

"We know people are afraid, and that is normal and appropriate. That fear can be managed and moderated with accurate information," Dr Tedros said.

More than 98,700 people have been infected and over 3,300 have died worldwide from the coronavirus, which has spread to more than 80 countries and territories.

Most cases and deaths are in China, where the virus emerged late last year, but infections are now rising faster abroad, with South Korea, Iran and Italy being major hot spots.

The epidemic has wreaked havoc on international business, tourism, sports events and schools, with almost 300 million students sent home worldwide.

Even religion has been affected by the virus. The Vatican said Pope Francis may change his schedule, Bethlehem was placed under lockdown, and Saudi Arabia emptied Islam's holiest site in Mecca to sterilise it.


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2020, with the headline Too many nations not doing enough to fight crisis: WHO. Subscribe