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COVID-19 close to pandemic as outbreak spreads

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-03-10 02:36
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Keep up efforts to fight virus, pleads WHO chief

The World Health Organization, or WHO, warned on Monday that the threat of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, developing into a pandemic has become very real given the many countries that are now reporting cases, but said the world should not abandon its efforts to contain the virus.

Over the weekend, the number of COVID-19 cases passed the 100,000 mark in 100 countries.

The organization's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Monday that the speed and width of the spread is certainly a matter of concern.

"Now that the coronavirus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real," he said. "But it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled."

Tedros emphasized that the great advantage in this scenario is that the decisions made by governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals can influence the trajectory of the epidemic. As evidence, he cited the fact that of the 80,000 cases reported in China, more than 70 percent have recovered and since been discharged.

So far, 93 percent of all cases reported globally are concentrated in four countries; China, South Korea, Italy and Iran. "It's never too late to turn back the tide," said Tedros.

"The facts that China and Singapore are turning the corner give me a lot of hope," added Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Program.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the program's technical lead, recently returned from a two-week trip to China. "We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, absolutely," she said. "But how quickly we get there will depend on what countries do."

Tedros said that countries that continue to find and test COVID-19 cases and trace their contacts are not only protecting their own people, but can also affect what happens in other countries and globally.

"The rule of the game is: Never give up," he said, adding that success can only be achieved with aggressive action as early as possible. "Half-hearted measures will leave the door ajar for the coronavirus."

The WHO chief said he was encouraged to see Italy taking aggressive measures to contain the epidemic. "We hope that those measures prove effective in the coming days," he said.

Italy is the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 in the European Union. At the weekend, the Italian government announced a lockdown across much of the north of the country, which has been most affected by the virus, in an attempt to contain its spread.

The 27-member EU is struggling to deal with the challenge, given the open borders between many nations. On Monday the European Council announced several new preventive measures, including reducing the number of meetings and size of delegations at meetings, as well as suspending all visitor groups and non-essential training.

Council President Charles Michel tweeted on Monday that he will hold a conference call with members to coordinate EU efforts on COVID-19.

The French government has already agreed to ban public events with 1,000 people or more as part of its efforts to halt the spread of the virus.

Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn also called for events with more than 1,000 attendees to be banned, but the power to implement such restrictions lies with local authorities.

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