Tuesday, 28 May 2024

WHO Director-General gives a media briefing as Covid-19 cases approach 20 million

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening,

This week we’ll reach 20 million registered cases of COVID-19 and 750,000 deaths.

Behind these statistics is a great deal of pain and suffering.

Every life lost matters.   

I know many of you are grieving and that this is a difficult moment for the world.

But I want to be clear, there are green shoots of hope and no matter where a country, a region, a city or a town is – it’s never too late to turn the outbreak around.  

There are two essential elements to addressing the pandemic effectively:

Leaders must step up to take action and citizens need to embrace new measures.

Some countries in the Mekong Region, New Zealand, Rwanda, and many island states across the Caribbean and the Pacific were able to suppress the virus early.

New Zealand is seen as a global exemplar and over the weekend Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern celebrated 100 days with no community transmission, while stressing the need to remain cautious.

Rwanda’s progress is due to a similar combination of strong leadership, universal health coverage, well-supported health workers and clear public health communications.

All testing and treatment for COVID-19 is free in Rwanda, so there are no financial barriers to people getting tested.

And when people test positive for the virus, they’re isolated and health workers then visit every potential contact and test them also.

Getting the basics right provides a clear picture of where the virus is and the necessary targeted actions to suppress transmission and save lives. 

This means that where there are cases, the government can quickly implement targeted measures and focus control efforts where they are needed most.

Other countries like France, Germany, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Italy, and the UK had major outbreaks of the virus but when they took action, they were able to suppress it.

Many countries globally are now using all the tools at their disposal to tackle any new spikes.
Over the last few days, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson put areas of northern England under stay at home notifications, as clusters of cases were identified.

In France, President Macron introduced compulsory masking in busy outdoor spaces of Paris in response to an increase in cases.

Strong and precise measures like these, in combination with utilising every tool at our disposal are key to preventing any resurgence in disease and allowing societies to be reopened safely.

And even in countries where transmission is intense, it can be brought under control by applying an all of government, all of society response.  

Chains of transmission have been broken by combination of rapid case identification, comprehensive contact tracing, adequate clinical care for patients, physical distancing, mask wearing, regular cleaning of hands and coughing away from others.

Whether countries or regions have successfully eliminated the virus, suppressed transmission to a low level, or are still in the midst of a major outbreak; now is the time to do it all, invest in the basics of public health and we can save both lives and livelihoods.

In the countries that have done this successfully, they are using a risk based approach to reopen segments of societies, including schools.

And as they do so, they must remain vigilant for potential clusters of the virus.

We all want to see schools safely reopened but we also need to ensure that students, staff and faculty are safe. The foundation for this is adequate control of transmission at the community.

My message is crystal clear: suppress, suppress, suppress the virus.

If we suppress the virus effectively, we can safely open up societies.


As countries work to suppress COVID-19, we must further accelerate our work to rapidly develop and equitably distribute the additional tools we need to stop this pandemic.

Just over three months ago we launched the ACT Accelerator as the fastest and most effective way to do this. 

It is the only end-to-end, global solution that combines public and private sector expertise in research and development, manufacturing, procurement and delivery for the tools needed to address the pandemic’s cause. 

The ACT-Accelerator has already harnessed the international public health ecosystem in a unique way of working, with early proof of its potential.  

The accelerator supported vaccines are in Phase 2/3 trials.

A Global Vaccines Facility is engaging over 160 countries.

The first therapy for severe COVID – dexamethasone - is in scale-up.

Dozens of other promising therapies are under analysis.

Over 50 diagnostics are in evaluation, including potentially game-changing rapid antigen tests.

And a comprehensive framework for allocating these scarce tools for greatest global impact, is under consultation.

The coming 3 months present a crucial window of opportunity to scale-up the work of the ACT-Accelerator for global impact.

However, to exploit this window we have to fundamentally scale up the way we are financing the ACT-Accelerator and prioritize the use of new tools.

There is a vast global gap between our ambition for the ACT-Accelerator and the amount of funds that have been committed. 

While we’re grateful for those that have made contributions, we’re only 10% of the way to funding the billions required to realise the promise of the ACT Accelerator.

And this is only part of the global investment needed to ensure everyone everywhere can access the tools.

For the vaccines alone, over $100 billion dollars will be needed.

This sounds like lot of money and it is.

But it’s small in comparison to the 10 trillion dollars that have already been invested by G20 countries in fiscal stimulus to deal with the consequences of the pandemic so far. 


I would like to close by saying a few words about the explosion in Lebanon that last Tuesday killed over 150 people, injured more than 6,000 and left over 300,000 people homeless.

To the people of Beirut, the health workers and emergency workers on the ground: our thoughts are with you and we will continue to support you.

From our strategic stockpile in Dubai, WHO immediately sent surgical and major trauma supplies. We released funds from the contingency fund for emergencies. 
And our staff are on the ground are supporting the assessment of the impact on the health sector with Lebanese and other UN partners.

We are shipping $1.7 million dollars worth of PPE items to support COVID-19 and humanitarian supplies that were destroyed by the blast.

We are also working closely with national health authorities to enhance trauma care, including through the deployment and coordination of qualified emergency medical teams.  

We’re also mitigating the COVID-19 impact, addressing psychosocial needs and facilitating the rapid restoration of damaged health facilities.

We have issued an appeal for $76 million US dollars and ask for your solidarity and support to the Lebanese people.

I thank you.

Re-disseminated from the World Health Organization

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