In a report Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) says it is never too late for even the worst infected countries to turn the COVID-19 pandemic around - if strong leaders encourage their populations to implement proven basic health measures.
Six months ago, when the WHO declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern, there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths outside China. WHO now reports the number of cases globally has surged to more than 17.5 million and deaths have increased to nearly 700,000.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says countries have to remain permanently vigilant and not take the virus for granted. In the past week alone, he noted several countries that appeared to be past the worst, are now contending with fresh spikes in cases.
“We have also seen how some countries, regions, or localities that had a high number of cases are now bringing the outbreak under control. It is not easy, of course … when leaders step up and work intensely with their populations, this disease can be brought under control,” he said.
And when that happens, Tedros said it is important that governments keep safeguards and monitoring in place. He warned that lifting restrictions too quickly can lead to a resurgence.
The WHO chief said progress is being made in developing safe therapeutics to treat people infected with the coronavirus. He noted several vaccines currently are in phase three clinical trials. He agreed that great hope rests in having safe, effective vaccines that can help protect people from infection.
“However, there is no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be. For now, stopping outbreaks comes down to the basics of public health and disease control. Testing, isolating and treating patients, and tracing and quarantining their contacts. Do it all,” Tedros said.
The WHO urges people to wear masks, which it says are a key tool in efforts to stop the spread of the virus. It says people who wear masks protect themselves and others from becoming infected.
This week, the WHO and partners are launching a so-called mask challenge. Tedros said people are being asked to send photos of themselves wearing a mask in a show of solidarity in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.