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Tue, 30 June 2020

COVID19: WHO Praises Japan and South Korea;  Says Worst is Still to Come

In the World Health Organisation's (WHO) press conference of 29 June, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, highlighted the work that both Japan and South Korea are doing in their battle against the ongoing COVID19 pandemic.

In the six months since the virus was discovered, there have been over 10 million confirmed cases and more than 500,000 deaths globally.

A vaccine is not expected to be available, if at all, until next year, and Dr. Tedros was eager to emphasise that more needs to be done with the tools we have at hand, the tools that save lives, and that we can all play a part.

"Six months ago, none of us could have imagined how our world, and our lives, would be thrown into turmoil by this new virus," said Dr. Tedros. "The pandemic has brought out the best and the worst of humanity. All over the world we have seen heartwarming acts of resilience, inventiveness, solidarity and kindness. But we have also seen concerning signs of stigma, misinformation and the politicization of the pandemic."

Dr. Tedros highlighted the role individual citizens must play, alongside the testing, tracing, isolating and quarantining that governments must do in order to suppress the spread of COVID19.

"The single most important intervention for breaking chains of transmission is not necessarily high-tech, and can be carried out by a broad range of professionals - it's tracing and quarantining contacts. Many countries actually have used non-health professionals to do contact tracing.  Third, save lives. Early identification and clinical care saves lives. Providing oxygen and dexamethasone to people with severe and critical diseases saves lives. And paying special attention to high risk groups including elderly people in long term care facilities saves lives. Japan has done this. It has one of the highest population of elderly people, but it's death rate is low. And the reason is what we just said many countries can do that, they can save lives," said Dr Tedros. "We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is, this is not even close to being over. Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up."

To date, there have been over 133 vaccine candidates put into the system, and a large number are now in clinical trials.

When asked a question about herd immunity and vaccines, Dr, Mike Ryan, Executive Director of WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, said, "We all hope, as you do, that we can reach a point where a safe and effective vaccine is developed and allocated fairly to countries around the world. As the director general said in a speech we don't have that vaccine yet, and there's a lot we can now do to suppress transmission ... Herd immunity is a term usually reserved for the use of vaccines, but we also have to be cautious and careful, we desperately hope and we can see tremendous work towards safe and effective vaccines but there are no guarantees of such, and therefore that's why we have so many candidates in testing so we have an opportunity to find the best one. But the only other way that a virus like this may be suppressed is by us breaking the chains of transmission. If you accept that  you cannot do that then the only option is to let this virus roam free through society and we have already seen the horrific impacts of that and therefore reducing mortality, suppressing transmission, while waiting for the arrival of a safe and effective vaccine right now is our best strategy for stopping this disease."

Dr. Tedros added, "Herd immunity is very difficult even when we have vaccines, because we have we need to have a high coverage of vaccine use to have heard immunity. To be honest with you, I think it would be important to focus on what is at hand now. What is at hand now is the simple public solution we have that many countries used to suppress the transmission and to save lives. I will give you on one example which is a country, South Korea. In February I remember South Korea had the second largest number of cases after China. I spoke with the health minister and the foreign minister came to Geneva to discuss with us in our headquarters here. We agreed on the comprehensive approach, and we agreed on implementing what's at hand to save lives and to suppress the transmission. And South Korea has shown to the world, that without even vaccines or therapeutics that it can take the number of cases down and suppress the outbreak.

"So our message to the world is, if the government can do its best in testing, contact tracing, isolating, quarantining cases, like what South Korea did. And, if the communities not only the government, but in addition to the government,  the communities take their responsibility of doing what's expected of them starting from hand hygiene to the rest that can be done personally, this virus can be suppressed. Time after time, in country after country, what we have seen is this virus can be suppressed if the governments are serious about that thing stay have to do their share, and if the community can do its share. So while doing our best to find a vaccine, which is the right thing to do, our advice from WHO is we should do everything that we can using the tools we have at hand. Because, many countries including the one example Korea, I can give you a list of countries, have shown that this virus can be suppressed and controlled using the tools at hand.

"So the basics are still important and the basics are non pharmaceutical. And they have shown their efficiency and effectiveness in controlling or suppressing this virus. The reason I'm stressing this is, the virus is spreading aggressively. It's very tragic to report to you that we have already suppressed 10 million cases and half a million deaths. Still, this could have been prevented through the tools that we have at hand. And please, focus on the tools at hand. Of course, we appreciate the investment you're doing in finding more technology vaccines and therapeutics. But that should be in addition to the maximum use of the tools at hand, and these are the simple solutions that the government can do and the public can do and we have already outlined those.

"So that's our message. It's six months since the virus started, it could be like a broken record to say exactly the same thing, but the same thing works - test, trace, isolate and quarantine cases, that's for the government to do. And second, hand hygiene for each individual, of course wearing masks and the other things that can be done, social distancing at individual level. It works and save lives. And that's still our message. But of course we should look for vaccines and the rest but the simple and basic public health works and that's what we're saying,"

Later in the press conference, responding to a question about contract tracing, Dr. Tedros said, "Trust me, no excuse for contact tracing. If any country is saying contact tracing is difficult, it is a lame excuse."

As of 05:43 GMT +7 on 30 June 2020 Johns Hopkins University of Medicine reported 10,199,798 confirmed cases and 504,200 deaths.

WHO's COVID19 Press Conference on 29 June 2020

See latest Travel News, Video Interviews, Podcasts and other news regarding: COVID19, WHO.

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