The World of International Organizations

WHO warns ‘normal’ is still a long ways off

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (AN/WHO)
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GENEVA — There will be “no return to the ‘old normal’ for the foreseeable future” as COVID-19 spreads and too many governments fail to act or communicate effectively, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.

Tedros warned the pandemic will worsen further if governments do not follow public health guideliness and send mixed messages that undermine public trust.

“Let me blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction. The virus remains public enemy number one, but the actions of many governments and people do not reflect this,” he told a regular press briefing. “The only aim of the virus is to find people to infect. Mixed messages from leaders are undermining the most critical ingredient of any response: trust.”

He said governments must clearly communicate, roll out comprehensive strategies to suppress transmissions and save lives, and adhere to basic public health principles of physical distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, coughing etiquette and staying at home when sick.

“If the basics aren’t followed, there is only one way this pandemic is going to go,” Tedros added. “It’s going to get worse and worse and worse.”

His comments came one day after the United Nations health agency reported the world hit a record of 230,000 new coronavirus cases in a day.

The pandemic has infected nearly 13 million people and killed 570,000 since it was first detected in Wuhan, China late last year, according to Johns Hopkins University and Google data trackers.

Four scenarios

Tedros noted that 50 percent of the 230,000 new coronavirus cases reported on Sunday came from just two countries — the United States and Brazil — while nearly 30 percent came from just eight other nations.

He emphasized that all countries in the world remain at risk even if they are not all affected in the same way. “There are roughly four situations playing out across the world at the moment,” explained Tedros.

The first involves nations that were “alert and aware — they prepared and responded rapidly and effectively to the first cases,” he said. That allowed them to avoid large outbreaks. Some countries that did so are in Asia’s Mekong region, the Pacific, Caribbean and Africa.

The second extends to mainly European nations where “strong leadership and populations adhering to key public health measures” effectively suppressed the virus and brought large outbreaks under control, he said.

The third has to do with nations that overcame the first peak of the outbreak, but are now struggling with new peaks, accelerating cases and full hospital wards after easing lockdown and stay-at-home restrictions.

And the fourth is seen in countries in the intense transmission phase, across the Americas, South Asia, and several countries in Africa.

“I want to be straight with you: there will be no return to the ‘old normal’ for the foreseeable future,” said Tedros. “But there is a roadmap to a situation where we can control the disease and get on with our lives.”

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