Coronavirus pandemic

WHO cautions youth: 'You are not invincible'

Health body adds that self-restraint in the young could save lives of the more vulnerable


GENEVA • The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned young people that they are "not invincible" against the coronavirus pandemic, and said their self-restraint could save the lives of older people.

While the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are the hardest hit by the coronavirus, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the virus can also sicken or kill young people, and they must avoid mingling with others and spreading it to older and more vulnerable people.

"I have a message for young people: You are not invincible. This virus could put you in hospital for weeks - or even kill you," he said at a virtual press conference in Geneva last Friday.

"Even if you don't get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else."

With more than 280,000 cases reported worldwide and a death toll of more than 11,800, each day brings a "new and tragic milestone", said Dr Tedros.

"Data from many countries clearly show that people under 50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring hospitalisation," he added.

He said the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the outbreak's epicentre, which last Thursday reported no new cases - the first time this had happened since the outbreak began - provided "hope for the rest of the world that even the most severe situation can be turned around".

Dr Tedros said that amid global shortages of protective gear for health workers as well as diagnostic tests, Chinese producers have agreed to send supplies to the WHO.

Arrangements are being finalised and shipments coordinated to restock the WHO's Dubai warehouse and ship supplies to where they are needed most, he added.

Dr Mike Ryan, the WHO's top emergency expert, said "air bridges" will be needed to expedite supplies to countries for vital health workers, as many regular flights have been cancelled.

The WHO has distributed 1.5 million laboratory tests worldwide, and it may need potentially 80 times that number in this pandemic, he said.

Dr Ryan, when asked about Iran, which is celebrating the Persian New Year as it battles the coronavirus, said that such celebrations need to be modified. The country has reported more than 1,500 deaths from the coronavirus and over 20,600 cases of infection.

Mass gatherings "can not only amplify the disease but they can disseminate the disease very far away from the centre", Dr Ryan said.


"They can be very, very, very, very dangerous in terms of epidemic management."

The WHO has shifted to recommending "physical distance" instead of social distancing to help prevent transmission of the virus, officials said.

"We are changing to say 'physical distance', and that's on purpose, because we want people to remain connected," said WHO epidemiologist Maria Kerkhove.

"So find ways to do that, find ways through the Internet and through different social media to remain connected because your mental health going through this (pandemic) is just as important as your physical health," she said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020, with the headline 'WHO cautions youth: 'You are not invincible''. Subscribe