COVID19 declared pandemic as Chinese cases slow

The World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) has declared the coronavirus COVID-19 a pandemic, with nearly 5000 people deaths across several countries.

Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this marks the first pandemic caused a coronavirus, and the first time the organisation has made such a declaration since the H1N1 swine flu in 2009.

“We have run the alarm bell loud and clear,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said, after raising the health emergency status to its highest possible level.

“In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled.”

There are eight countries with more than 1000 cases of the virus, and 120,000 people worldwide have been infected. 

Dr. Ghebreyesus said he is alarmed by some world leader’s inaction in response to the virus, and that the spread and severity will almost certainly climb, globally. That is what motivated the new designation, upgrading the outbreak from a global health emergency. 

“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change W.H.O.'s assessment of the threat posed by the virus,” he said.

“It doesn't change what W.H.O. is doing. And it doesn't change what countries should do.”

Samoa’s representative for the W.H.O. Dr. Rasul Bhagirov said the new characterization, based on the quick spread of the coronavirus outside of China, the number of countries affected and the pace of action by some government, is intended to stimulate prevention and mitigation activity.

“W.H.O. is calling on pulling all the phases of preparation together, we need to prepare for the containment and mitigation of the virus,” he said.

Countries have to get ready for the inevitable, and be ready to encourage social distancing, school closures and intensive contact tracing and isolation.

And though the new characterization does not give the W.H.O. any formal or official mechanisms to penalize countries or leaders who continue to delay action, it does give a higher moral standing to call for aggressive mitigation and containment measures, Dr. Baghirov said.

He said China’s “miracle” aggressive containment measures prove countries need to act swiftly and severely to stop the virus spreading when it arrives in the country. 

“If you really apply aggressive measures you can stop or minimise the impact,” he said

Samoa has restricted travel to 15 countries with widespread transmission of the disease and is monitoring the global situation closely. 

Travelers entering Samoa are required to have medical certificates proving they are well and a leading microbiologist, Dr. Siouxsie Wiles has recommended all travelers self-isolate for two weeks regardless of their positive health status upon arrival. 

Dr. Baghirov said while the W.H.O. does not recommend travel restrictions, it has acknowledged that they have been proving successful in buying Samoa, and others, time to prepare.

“That measure so far is working, so on the one hand the travel advisories are quite an aggressive strategy by Samoa,” he said.

“In terms of preparedness, increasingly we see more effort at a very high level including the Prime Minister initiating a cabinet intervention to prepare Faleolo Hospital, the tents around Faleolo Hospital, and there is also preparation within the Tupua Tamasese Hospital.

“That is linked to supplies, sensitising and training health workers who will face it firsthand and training on how to deal with potential coronavirus patients.”

There is a lot of focus on the prevention of the virus arriving in Samoa, but less on the containment and investigation preparation side. But the activating of both the National and Health Emergency Operations Centres (N.E.O.C. and H.E.O.C.) will go a long way, Dr. Baghirov said.

So far the W.H.O. in Samoa has not been included in the initial N.E.O.C. planning, he added. 

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