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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 16 April 2021

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  • Globally, the number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months. This is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far during the pandemic.
  • Until the beginning of this year, Papua New Guinea had reported less than 900 cases, and just 9 deaths. It has now reported more than 9300 cases, and 82 deaths. While these numbers are still smaller than other countries, the increase is sharp and WHO is very concerned about the potential for a much larger epidemic.
  • Rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine started in late March, with 8 thousand doses donated by Australia, and a further 132 thousand doses from COVAX arrived this week. Through WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, or GOARN, 13 experts have been deployed to support the government with case management, epidemiology, infection prevention and control, laboratory support and information management.
  • Papua New Guinea is a perfect example of why vaccine equity is so important. It has held COVID-19 at bay for so long, but with rising infections, understandable fatigue with social restrictions, low levels of immunity among the population, and a fragile health system, it’s vital that it receives more vaccines as soon as possible. And I would like to use this opportunity to thank Australia for donating vaccines to Papua New Guinea, and my thanks to the Foreign Minister of Australia, who has expressed full support for Papua New Guinea.
  • At the global level, we are continuing to assess the evolution of the pandemic, and to adjust our advice accordingly. Under the International Health Regulations, the Emergency Committee held its 7th meeting yesterday, and I look forward to receiving its advice on Monday. Globally, our message to all people in all countries remains the same: we all have a role to play in ending the pandemic.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Around the world, cases and deaths are continuing to increase at worrying rates.

Globally, the number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months.

This is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far during the pandemic.

Some countries that had previously avoided widespread transmission are now seeing steep increases in infections.

One of those countries is Papua New Guinea.

Until the beginning of this year, Papua New Guinea had reported less than 900 cases, and just 9 deaths.

It has now reported more than 9300 cases, and 82 deaths. While these numbers are still smaller than other countries, the increase is sharp and WHO is very concerned about the potential for a much larger epidemic.

There is large-scale community transmission in the capital Port Moresby and the Western Province, and all 22 provinces have now reported cases, although in the last two weeks we have seen some decline.

Rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine started in late March, with 8 thousand doses donated by Australia, and a further 132 thousand doses from COVAX arrived this week.

The vaccine is being offered first to priority groups, including health workers, to protect the local health system.

Through WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, or GOARN, 13 experts have been deployed to support the government with case management, epidemiology, infection prevention and control, laboratory support and information management.

Emergency medical teams from Australia, Germany and the United States have also arrived to support the response, with others expected in the coming weeks.

WHO is continuing to work closely with the National Department of Health and partners to provide technical advice and support, and to boost local health response capacity. This includes an emphasis on expanding testing.

Papua New Guinea is a perfect example of why vaccine equity is so important.

It has held COVID-19 at bay for so long, but with rising infections, understandable fatigue with social restrictions, low levels of immunity among the population, and a fragile health system, it’s vital that it receives more vaccines as soon as possible.

And I would like to use this opportunity to thank Australia for donating vaccines to Papua New Guinea, and my thanks to the Foreign Minister of Australia, who has expressed full support for Papua New Guinea.

Today I’m pleased to welcome Papua New Guinea’s Minister of Health, the Honourable Jelta Wong.

Minister, thank you for your leadership at this difficult time for your nation, and thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. You have the floor.

[MINISTER WONG ADDRESSED THE MEDIA]

Thank you, so much Minister, and thank you also to the Prime Minister. Thank you for everything you are doing. Please rest assured of WHO’s total support for your government and your people at this difficult time.

I know that we have a very dedicated and skilled country office in Papua New Guinea, and it’s now my pleasure to welcome WHO’s acting representative in Papua New Guinea, Anna Maalsen.

Anna, thank you for joining us, and please tell us about the challenges you face and the steps that WHO is taking to address them. You have the floor.

[MS MAALSEN ADDRESSED THE MEDIA]

Thank you Anna, and thank you for everything you and your team are doing.

I send my greetings to the whole team there – you make us very proud.

Papua New Guinea is one of 37 countries in WHO’s Western Pacific Region. Although the first cases of COVID-19 were reported from the Western Pacific, the region still has the fewest cases and deaths of WHO’s six regions.

Many of its countries have applied lessons learned from past experience with infectious disease outbreaks like SARS, MERS and influenza, and have been strong examples of how COVID-19 can be contained with proven public health measures.

Cases are now increasing sharply in Papua New Guinea and some other countries in the region. The trajectory is worrying and the situation is fragile.

To tell us more, it’s my honour to introduce the Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Takeshi Kasai.

My brother Takeshi, thank you so much to you and your team in Manila and in each of your 37 countries for everything you continue to do to serve the people of the Western Pacific. Thank you so much for your leadership, you have the floor.

[DR KASAI ADDRESSED THE MEDIA]

Thank you so much, Takeshi, and my greetings to all of our colleagues in the Regional Office. We’re very proud to serve with you.

And I’m glad that today we have been able to showcase the incredible capacity of WHO to provide support on the ground in countries, at the regional level and here at headquarters.

At the global level, we are continuing to assess the evolution of the pandemic, and to adjust our advice accordingly.

Under the International Health Regulations, the Emergency Committee held its 7th meeting yesterday, and I look forward to receiving its advice on Monday.

Globally, our message to all people in all countries remains the same: we all have a role to play in ending the pandemic.

Christian, back to you.