Geneva 6 February 2020
(From the Report of the Director-General, 146th Meeting of the Executive Board：https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/report-of-the-director-general-146th-meeting-of-the-executive-board)
As you know, last week I declared another public health emergency of international concern – this time over the outbreak of novel coronavirus.
As of this morning, there are 17,238 confirmed cases in China, and 361 deaths.
Outside China, there are 151 confirmed cases in 23 countries, and one death, which was reported from the Philippines yesterday.
During my visit to Beijing last week, I was so impressed in my meeting with President Xi at his detailed knowledge of the outbreak, and for his personal leadership, but also at his commitment from the words he told me, which I will share with you: „We will take serious measures at the epicenter, at the source, in order to protect our people, and also to prevent the spread of the virus to other countries. We have the obligation to do that, and that’s what we will do.“
That’s exactly the strategy we discussed with him.
If we invest in fighting at the epicenter, at the source, then the spread to other countries is minimal and also slow. If it’s minimal and slow, what is going outside can also be controlled easily. So the number of cases we have now, 151, it’s actually small, and it’s coming only slow.
So it can be managed – when I say this, don’t make a mistake, it can get even worse. But if we give it our best, the outcome could be even better.
Because of this strategy, if it weren’t for China’s efforts, the number of cases outside China would have been very much higher. And it could still be, but we have the opportunity now to work aggressively to prevent that from happening.
The decision to declare a PHEIC was taken primarily because of the signs of human-to-human transmission outside China, and our concern of what might happen if the virus were to spread in a country with a weaker health system.
WHO has made several recommendations for all countries to prevent and limit the further spread of the virus.
First, there is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.
We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent. WHO stands ready to provide advice to any country that is considering which measures to take.
Second, we must support countries with weaker health systems.
Third, accelerate the development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
Our global connectedness is a weakness in this outbreak, but it is also our greatest strength. We need strong public-private partnership to find solutions.
Fourth, combat the spread of rumours and misinformation.
To that end, we have worked with Google to make sure people searching for information about coronavirus see WHO information at the top of their search results. Social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Tencent and Tiktok have also taken steps to limit the spread of misinformation.
Fifth, review preparedness plans, identify gaps and evaluate the resources needed to identify, isolate and care for cases, and prevent transmission.
Sixth, we call on all countries to share data, sequences, knowledge and experience with WHO and the world.
And seventh, the only way we will defeat this outbreak is for all countries to work together in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation. We are all in this together, and we can only stop it together.
The rule of the game is solidarity, solidarity, solidarity. But we see this missing in many corners, and that has to be addressed.
I am taking advice from a wide range of experts in this field, as a complement to the Emergency Committee, to ensure we understand the evolution of the outbreak and respond accordingly.
Both the coronavirus and Ebola outbreaks underscore once again the vital importance for all countries to invest in preparedness, not panic.
So far, more than 1 billion U.S. dollars has been spent trying to stop the Ebola outbreak in DRC. By comparison, just 18 million dollars was spent on preparedness in Uganda. But when Ebola did cross the border, they were ready, and stopped it.
This must be a lesson for the rest of the world.