Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

Coronavirus: window of opportunity to act, WHO says

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accused governments of not sharing virus data quickly enough

The director general of the World Health Organisation on Tuesday said there was a “window of opportunity” for the international community to battle the viral outbreak from China’s Hubei province.

While China was taking “strong measures” to stop the coronavirus spreading, the rest of the world should work on preventing further spread and controlling it, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

He accused governments in wealthy countries of being “well behind” in sharing data about cases of the virus, which the UN agency has declared a public health emergency.

"Without better data it's very hard for us to assess how the outbreak is evolving or what impact it could have, and to ensure we are providing the most appropriate recommendations," Mr Tedros said.

In Geneva, he briefed member states on the situation with the coronavirus, which has killed at least 427 people. More than 20,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), speaks on February 3, 2020.  AP
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), speaks on February 3, 2020. AP

“It’s important to underline that 99 per cent of the cases are in China, and 97 per cent of deaths are in Hubei province," Mr Tedros said. "This is still first and foremost an emergency for China.

"Of course, the risk of it becoming more widespread globally remains high. Now is the moment for all countries to be preparing themselves. We have a window of opportunity.

"More than 99 per cent of cases are in China. In the rest of the world we only have 176 cases.

"That doesn’t mean that it won’t get worse. But for sure we have a window of opportunity to act.”

He said 176 cases was too few for the public to panic or fear, but some people would have concerns.

Mr Tedros repeated his call for countries not to impose travel and trade restrictions because of the virus as such restrictions could increase stigma and fear, but had little effect on public health.

Earlier on Tuesday, the outbreak claimed its first life in Hong Kong, the second death outside of mainland China.

On Sunday, the Philippines reported that one of its citizens, a man aged 44 who travelled from the city of Wuhan, had died.

The coronavirus is thought to have originated in the central Chinese city.

Updated: February 5, 2020 07:35 AM

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