WHO urges Europe to learn from China to tackle pandemic

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A pharmacist wears protective mask and gloves in his pharmacy on March 11, 2020 in Rome, Italy.

Marco Di Lauro

The WHO urged Europe to ratchet up its efforts when tackling the coronavirus pandemic, pointing to a decline in the rate of new cases in China as evidence that bold action does work to reduce the spread.

As of Tuesday, more than 185,000 cases of the coronavirus had been reported worldwide, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, with 7,330 deaths.

Europe has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, with one-third of globally reported cases now stemming from the region. Italy has recorded the most cases of COVID-19 in the region, with nearly 28,000 confirmed infections and 2,158 deaths nationwide.

Hans Kluge, regional director for Europe at WHO, said Tuesday that European countries must triple their efforts to prevent the spread, saying there must be “no exceptions” when taking robust action.

“There is, quite simply, a new reality,” Kluge said during a Facebook Live broadcast at WHO’s main offices in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“Every country, with no exceptions, need to take their boldest actions to stop or slow down the virus threat. Boldest action should include community action: Thinking that this does not concern me is not an option,” he added.

‘Social distancing alone is not enough’

COVID-19 first emerged in Wuhan, China in December last year.

Shortly thereafter, Wuhan, a city of 11 million and the capital of central Hubei province, virtually went into lockdown, with nearly all flights at Wuhan’s airport canceled and checkpoints blocking the main roads leading out of town.

The flu-like virus has since spread to 152 countries worldwide, but some have “really succeeded to contain and push back” the spread, Kluge said, highlighting China, South Korea and Singapore as notable examples.

The WHO suggested a holistic response from these countries had gone a long way into combating the virus.

This photo taken on February 17, 2020 shows a member of the medical staff (L) doing a massage for a patient who has displayed mild symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus at an exhibition centre converted into a hospital in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province.

STR | AFP | Getty Images

“It is not one action that helps, social distancing alone is not enough,” Dorit Nitzan, coordinator of the health emergencies program at WHO Europe, said Tuesday.

“What the Chinese showed us is that all of the actions that the regional director just mentioned should be done together,” Nitzan said.

The United Nations health agency has advised all countries to adopt a mix of interventions based on an analysis of the local situation and context, with containment as a major pillar.

The WHO’s Kluge reaffirmed this message on Tuesday, saying that there was not a “one-size-fits-all” approach to managing cases of the coronavirus.

Although, the final aim of all European governments should be the same: Stop transmission and prevent the spread to save lives.

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