An average of 80,000 new cases per day have been reported throughout April, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The United Nations agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the announcement in a virtual conference Wednesday, 6 May. “These are not just numbers – every single case is a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a brother, sister or friend,” Tedros said.
Globally, at least 3.5 million people have been infected by the virus, 250,000 of which have died.
While the pandemic seems to be levelling of in Western Europe with a consistent decline in numbers, more cases are being reported from other regions, such as Southeast Asia, Africa, the Americas, Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. WHO noted that there are divergent trends within countries as well as regions.
Officials from the UN agency were quick to say that the high increase in COVID-19 cases over time may not necessarily be because of countries’ shortfalls. In many cases, the rises are attributed to intensified testing efforts.
“It’s not good in terms of seeing cases, in terms of transmission, but I don’t want to equate that with something wrong… I want to equate that with countries are working very hard to increase their ability to find the virus, to find people with the virus, to have testing in place to identify who has COVID-19 and putting into place what they need to do to care for those patients,” said Dr. Maria van Kerkhove of WHO’s Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Unit.
Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s executive director, said that it is difficult to gauge whether or not a region’s situation is improving or otherwise, although there is greater concern in countries with existing humanitarian crises, such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
“We need to focus on ensuring that the most vulnerable people in the world get prioritised assistance in this response,” Ryan said.
‘No going back to business as usual’
With countries slowly easing lockdown restrictions, WHO reiterated to authorities the need for caution and vigilance with every measure being taken. Tedros pointed out that there is a very real risk of resurgence “if countries do not manage the transition extremely carefully and in a phased approach.”
Tedros advised countries to follow WHO’s criteria for lifting stay-at-home measures, such as strong surveillance, decline in cases, minimising outbreak risks (especially in nursing homes and health facilities), readiness of health systems for testing and treatment, and the implementation of preventive measures in public locations.
“The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually recede, but there can be no going back to business as usual. We cannot continue to rush to fund panic but let preparedness go by the wayside,” Tedros said.
For the UN agency’s head, the pandemic has accentuated the need to invest in health and ensure a strong national health system is in place. “If we learn anything from COVID-19, it must be that investing in health now will save lives later… Prevention is not only better than cure, it’s cheaper, and the smartest thing to do,” he noted.