The time to act to fight the novel coronavirus was one or two months ago, and countries “squandered” the opportunity, according to the director-general of the World Health Organization.
Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said his organization had been warning for months about the dangers of COVID-19, but countries didn’t take action.
“If you remember, we have been saying for more than two months now, this virus is public enemy number one,” he said.
“We had been saying to the world that the window of opportunity is narrowing and the time to act was actually more than a month ago, two months ago.
“I think we squandered the first window of opportunity. But we are saying today in my message, I made it clear that this is a second opportunity which we should not squander and do everything to suppress and control this virus.”
According to research compiled by Johns Hopkins University, as of Wednesday, there were more than 450,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 20,000 deaths.
While the first window may be closed, in his opening remarks, Tedros outlined six steps the WHO still believes will help countries control the virus:
- Expand, train and deploy their health care and public health workforce.
- Implement a system to find every suspected case at the community level.
- Ramp up production capacity and availability of testing.
- Identify, adapt and keep facilities countries will use to treat and isolate patients.
- Develop a clear process to quarantine contacts.
- Focus the whole of government on fighting COVID-19.
More and more countries are implementing lockdown measures, said Dr. Maria van Kerkhove, technical lead for the WHO’s COVID-19 program.
“This is buying you a little bit of time, and that time needs to be used appropriately,” she said.
Countries need to make sure that during that time, they’re able to build up their response systems to find and fight cases to make the problem more manageable, she said.
“These measures are the best way to suppress and stop transmission so that when restrictions are lifted, the virus doesn’t resurge,” Tedros said.
“The last thing any country needs is to open the schools and businesses, only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence.”
The WHO had earlier faced some criticism for refusing to call the COVID-19 outbreak a “pandemic,” when experts had been saying for some time that it met all the criteria. The WHO changed its mind only on March 11, though it had declared the disease a public health emergency in January.