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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 2 October 2020

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  • I have initiated a thorough review of the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as broader protection issues in health emergency response settings.

  • Every week we’re adding approximately two million COVID-19 cases and we passed the tragic milestone of one million deaths this week. What we’ve learned in every region of the world is that with good leadership and quick responsive action from the general population, it’s never too late to turn the tide.

  • This week we were pleased that countries stepped up and announced $1 billion US dollars of new funding for the ACT-Accelerator, which is driving progress on diagnostics, treatment and vaccines.

  • We have finalized approval for a second rapid test to be granted Emergency Use Listing.

  • We have published a call for expressions of interest for manufacturers of COVID-19 Vaccines – to apply for approval for prequalification and/or Emergency Use Listing.

  • 168 countries have now joined COVAX, which sends a very powerful message of solidarity across the world that we’re uniting to end this pandemic for the sake of all humankind.

  • The Pan American Health Organization are teaming up with the International Olympic Committee and National Olympic Committees in Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico to send out health messaging on COVID-19 through the #HealthyTogether campaign. Over 45 Olympic athletes are supporting WHO to protect people from COVID-19 and give them tips on how to stay mentally and physically healthy.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening,

Overnight we heard that the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump and First Lady, Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19.

I want to start today by wishing them both a full and swift recovery.

Our prayers are with them.

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The world is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every week we’re adding approximately 2 million cases and, as you know, the world passed the tragic milestone of 1 million deaths this week. We mourn the loss of so many.

At the same time, we continue to support all countries to prevent infections and save lives.

There are roughly four different situations that countries are currently facing:

First, some countries jumped on the virus quickly and have avoided large outbreaks.

Second, some countries have had large outbreaks but were able to bring them under control and they continue to suppress the virus.

Third, while some countries brought the virus under control, as economies and societies have eased restrictions, there has been an increase in cases.

And fourth, there are still some countries that are in the intense phase of transmission.

However, what we’ve learned in every region of the world is that with strong leadership, clear and comprehensive strategies, consistent communication, and an engaged, empowered and enabled population, it’s never too late to turn the tide.

In Europe, countries have done it.

In Asia, countries have done it.

In the Pacific, countries have done it.

In the Middle East, countries have done it.

In Africa, countries have done it.

In the Americas, countries have done it.

In every region, countries have been able to develop a collective blueprint for suppressing the virus and working to save both lives and livelihoods.

WHO will continue to support national action plans through our regional and national country offices and spread these lessons of success across the globe.

This is a critical moment in the outbreak response.

We urge every single leader to strengthen their response, put targeted measures in place that we know can suppress the spread, ensure that health systems and workers are protected, and saves lives.

For us all, the fastest way for us to get through this is to act together.

If we all keep doing the basics: physical distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, coughing and sneezing safely away from others, avoiding crowds and keeping windows and doors open when you can’t meet friends and family outside – together, we will suppress this virus.

And when we’re able to successfully control it, it’s important governments keep going – stay vigilant and be ready – and keep investing in your national health systems including contact tracing.

As well as focusing on their own national context, it’s important to also drive global solidarity by investing in global public goods.

This week we were pleased that countries stepped up and announced US$1 billion of new funding for the ACT Accelerator, which is driving progress on diagnostics, treatment and vaccines.

On Monday we announced that WHO had approved our first antigen based rapid diagnostic test for Emergency Use Listing and had secured supply of 120 million tests for use in low- and middle-income countries.

The Emergency Use Listing procedure streamlines the process by which new or unlicensed products can be used during public health emergencies.

It’s designed to provide information to procurement agencies and Member States using an essential set of quality, safety and performance data provided by the company.

Today, we are pleased to announce that we have finalized approval for a second antigen-based rapid diagnostic test to be granted Emergency Use Listing.

These tests are simple to use and provide reliable results in approximately 15 to 30 minutes, rather than hours or days, at a lower price.

And we have also published today a call for expressions of interest for manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines – to apply for approval for prequalification and/or Emergency Use Listing.

Like with the new rapid tests, WHO looks forward to receiving expressions of interest for COVID-19 vaccines.

Then through our ACT Accelerator and COVAX Facility we will ensure that any vaccines that are proven to be safe and effective are rolled out equitably across the world.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: sharing finite resources, from tests, to therapeutics, to vaccines isn’t charity.

It’s the smart play for all countries, as it will ensure that they can protect those at most risk, like frontline health workers, and ultimately across the world this is the strategy to save lives, stabilize health systems and ensure a truly global economic recovery that helps us recover together.

I’m pleased to say that 168 countries have now joined COVAX and another 25 have told us they will do so soon.

This sends a very powerful message of solidarity across the world that we’re uniting to end this pandemic for the sake of all humankind.

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There’s something very important I want to speak about now.

I want to address some of the disturbing news from the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, regarding reports of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse by people identifying themselves as working for WHO.

To be very clear, we are outraged to read these reports.

WHO works around the world in the toughest emergency environments and situations. We come to save lives and spread hope.

The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible.

We will not tolerate behaviour like this from our staff, contractors or partners.

Anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal.

I have initiated an investigation of the specific allegations, as well as broader protection issues in health emergency response settings.

WHO has a zero-tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse.

I take these reports very seriously and I will have more to say on this very soon.

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Before I turn back to Fadela, I want to leave you on a message of hope.

Yesterday on international day of older persons, I had an inspiring conversation with Captain Sir Tom Moore who raised nearly £40 million for the UK’s National Health Service with a charity walk.

And just today we received a message from Jeanette Bank of Durban, South Africa.

Jeannette we know you follow our press conferences and I want to say hello, thank you for the beautiful key rings from Mozambique and Zimbabwe and for letting us know about the amazing story of Ida Ezekowitz who at 99 years of ag was able to defeat the coronavirus.

We’re all in this together and across the world, we will continue to drive science, solutions and solidarity until we beat this virus, together!

From myself, Mike my general, Maria and thank you for sending another one to my daughter and Gabby; we all express gratitude for the gift all the way from South Africa and one day we hope to see you in person.

Thank you very much.