Countries must shift mindset to virus preparedness: WHO expert

February 26, 2020 07:32
Bruce Aylward, International team lead for the WHO-China joint mission on Covid-19, speaks at a news conference at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

Countries need to prepare immediately for an outbreak of the novel coronavirus so they can respond rapidly when it arrives, a top World Health Organization (WHO) expert said.

“Think the virus is going to show up tomorrow,” Dr. Bruce Aylward, head of the joint WHO-Chinese mission on the outbreak, told reporters on return to Geneva.

“If you don’t think that way, you’re not going to be ready,” he said, saying it was an “incredibly interconnected world”.

Aylward said the public needed to be educated about the issue to ensure their support in the battle to contain the virus. He said 10 percent of people who come in contact with an infected person contracts the virus.

“Get organized, use the time you are trying to buy well because it is going to save lives,” he said.

Iran’s coronavirus death toll rose to 16, the highest outside China, increasing its international isolation as nations from South Korea to Italy accelerated emergency measures to curb the global spread of the virus.

Aylward said China’s “extraordinary mobilization” to handle the outbreak showed how an aggressive public health policy, including large quarantines, could curb the spread.

Authorities should prepare hospital beds, isolation zones, respirators and oxygen for severe cases, he said. Plans should be in place to transport and test suspected victims of the disease that has sickened tens of thousands of people.

“China knows how to keep people alive,” Aylward said.

Referring to his two-week visit to Beijing and three other provinces, including Hubei and the epidemic’s center, the city of Wuhan, he said: “It is staggering. Every person you talk to there has a sense of responsibility, they are mobilized like in a war against this virus.”

Asked whether known cases might be the tip of the iceberg, he said: “Probably we are not missing a huge amount [of cases].”

Regarding the infection of more than 3,000 Chinese health workers, Aylward said: “Most healthcare workers got infected in the community, not in the healthcare work.”

“Are they taking it seriously? Absolutely. Are they good at it? Absolutely. Are the numbers coming down? Absolutely, in terms of healthcare worker infections. And that’s a good news story,” he added. Reuters

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