Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 1 October 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: 'None of us are safe until all of us are safe,' says WHO chief Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus

Director General of the World Health Organisation issues a stark warning at the World Government Summit Virtual Health Forum

The director general of the World Health Organisation on Monday issued a firm warning that global solidarity is required to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, who was speaking at the World Government Summit Virtual Health Forum, outlined how the world is now paying the price for its lack of preparedness to combat the virus, and stressed nations must work together for "mutual security".

The WHO reported a record increase in global cases on Sunday, with the total rising by 183,020 in a 24-hour period. The previous record for new daily cases was 181,232 on June 18.

The daily report showed the biggest rise in North and South America, as 116,000 new cases were confirmed.

"None of us are safe until all of us are safe. This is a lesson we must learn anew," he said.

"No country can fight this pandemic alone. The greatest threat is not the virus but the lack of global solidarity and leadership.

"We cannot defeat this pandemic with a divided world. Together we must work to ensure that the lessons of this pandemic are learnt and the world never again finds itself unprepared.

"Preparedness is not a one-time investment - it is an ongoing investment. That's why WHO has made preparedness a priority."

Dr Tedros, who addressed the World Government Summit in 2018, said lessons from past pandemics had not been learnt, with the 1918 flu pandemic an example after that was "quickly forgotten" and ended up killing more than the total number of fatalities from the First World War.

"I said that a pandemic can start in any country at any time and kill millions of people as we are not prepared," he said.

"I said we did not know when the next one would be but we knew the toll would be huge on human life, and cause social, political and economic instability. None of us knew then what we now know. The world was not prepared.

"This pandemic is a brutal reminder for policymakers and leaders that the time to prepare for emergencies is before the crisis hits. The impact on lives and the global economy is a clear illustration that preparedness is not a cost and is an investment. The costliest thing of all is to do nothing."

Dr Tedros said the pandemic is still accelerating, and pointed to the three months it took for the first 1 million cases to be reported, compared with the eight days for the last 1 million cases.

"Its effects will be felt for decades to come," he said.

None of us knew then what we now know. The world was not prepared

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus

Global cases are now on the cusp of passing 9 million, with more than 468,000 deaths, according to the WHO.

In the UAE, recoveries have been outnumbering new cases as the government stepped up mass testing in recent weeks. Medics have been making their way through densely populated areas, offering free tests.

Also speaking during the forum was Abdulrahman Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention and chairman of the National Election Committee, who used the forum to hit out at the spread of false information about Covid-19 on social media channels.

“One of the biggest challenges we faced was the impact of social media was so strong,” said Mr Al Owais.

“The misinformation coming through social media was challenging for all governments in that we had to be very quick in responding to it.”

The health minister said he understood many people shared false information without trying to cause harm or deliberately mislead others, but it still caused problems.

“They wanted to help but sending misinformation really created a mess that put added pressure on the different government sectors dealing with Covid-19,” he said.

“There needs to be a discussion about how we can properly use social media in these times.

“When we had the Sars crisis there was no social media so we didn’t have these issues. You can’t count the number of lessons we have learned and are still learning.”

He said the UAE’s early response to the coronavirus crisis had helped the country absorb its impact compared to other nations.

“We have been tracking this since the beginning and had our (first) emergency meeting at the beginning of January, even before the WHO announced there was something serious going on,” said the health minister.

“We have been a world leader on testing. We exceeded three million tests which is almost one third of our population, it’s a high percentage but we are still going forward.

“We couldn’t have done this without proper planning.”

Updated: June 22, 2020 05:20 PM

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