Coronavirus pandemic is 'accelerating', warns WHO as confirmed cases inch closer to 400,000 globally

To win, countries must test every suspected case, isolate and care for every confirmed case and trace and quarantine every close contact


                            Coronavirus pandemic is 'accelerating', warns WHO as confirmed cases inch closer to 400,000 globally
(AP Photo)

The pandemic is accelerating, warned the World Health Organization (WHO) chief as the number of confirmed cases inches closer to 400,000 globally.

It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just four days for the third 100,000 cases, which shows "how the virus is accelerating", WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a briefing on March 24.

Globally, at least 381,293 cases have been reported so far and at least 16,572 have died in the coronavirus pandemic.

"But we're not prisoners to statistics. We're not helpless bystanders. We can change the trajectory of this pandemic. Numbers matter, because they’re not just numbers. They’re people, whose lives and families have been turned upside down. But what matters most is what we do," Dr Ghebreyesus said, adding that the rule of the game is to "kick out coronavirus".

The WHO experts once again emphasized that social distancing measures will not be enough to stop the virus. "Asking people to stay at home and other physical distancing measures are an important way of slowing down the spread of the virus and buying time — but they are defensive measures," said Dr Ghebreyesus.

He said to win, countries must attack the virus with aggressive and targeted tactics — which includes testing every suspected case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case and tracing and quarantining every close contact. "You can't win a football game only by defending. You have to attack as well," he added. 

Commuters at Grand Central Terminal during the morning rush hour on March 23 in New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered most New Yorkers to stay home from work to slow the coronavirus pandemic (AP Photo)

The WHO said it recognizes that some countries are struggling with the capacity to carry out offensive measures. "Several countries have shown that mobilizing resources internally from less-affected regions is one way to increase capacity. We're also grateful that several countries have sent emergency medical teams to care for patients and train health workers in other countries that need support. This is an incredible example of international solidarity. But it's not an accident," he said.

Dr Ghebreyesus explained that the WHO has been working with countries for years to build a network of emergency medical teams for precisely this kind of eventuality, to provide high-quality health professionals who can be deployed to care for patients and save lives.

He, however, warned that health workers can only do their jobs effectively when they can do their jobs safely. "We continue to hear alarming reports from around the world of large numbers of infections among health workers. Even if we do everything else right, if we don’t prioritize protecting health workers, many people will die because the health worker who could have saved their life is sick," the expert said.

Using untested medicine will not help

There is currently no proven treatment or vaccine for the virus and work is underway on both fronts. The WHO has launched a solidarity trial — an international trial to evaluate untested but promising treatments for COVID-19.

Wearing protective equipment, a research and development company worker works on the production of coronavirus testing kits in Gebze, northwestern Turkey (AP Photo)

However, the experts cautioned that in the absence of evidence, using untested medicines currently could raise false hope and even do more harm than good. This could even cause a shortage of essential medicines that are needed to treat other diseases, the WHO said.

"It's great to see the level of energy now being directed to research against COVID-19. Small, observational and non-randomized studies will not give us the answers we need. That’s why WHO has launched the solidarity trial, to generate robust, high-quality evidence as fast as possible. The more countries that sign up to the trial and other large studies, the faster we will get results on which drugs work, and the more lives we will be able to save," said Dr Ghebreyesus. 

US President Donald Trump, who had hyped anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential therapy against coronavirus that has not been approved, admitted during a recent briefing that his enthusiasm and faith in the unproven drug was based on "just a feeling". Dr Anthony S Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director, had, however, stated during the same briefing that currently there is no "magic drug" for COVID-19.

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