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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 26 October 2020

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  • Last week saw the highest number of COVID-19 cases reported so far. Many countries in the northern hemisphere are seeing a concerning rise in cases and hospitalisations. And intensive care units are filling up to capacity in some places, particularly in Europe and North America.
  • We must do all we can to protect health workers, and the best way to do that is for all of us to take every precaution we can to reduce the risk of transmission, for ourselves and others. No one wants more so-called lockdowns. But if we want to avoid them, we all have to play our part.
  • The fight back against this pandemic is everyone’s business. We cannot have the economic recovery we want and live our lives the way we did before the pandemic. We can keep our kids in school, we can keep businesses open, we can preserve lives and livelihoods. We can do it! But we must all make trade-offs, compromises and sacrifices.
  • When leaders act quickly and deliberately, the virus can be suppressed. But, where there has been political division at the national level; where there has been blatant disrespect for science and health professionals, confusion has spread and cases and deaths have mounted. This is why I have said repeatedly: stop the politicisation of COVID-19.
  • Last week WHO conducted its first global e-learning course on health and migration, addressing a critical and often neglected topic of global health. It's vital that all countries include refugees and migrants in their national policies as part of their commitment to universal health coverage.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Last week saw the highest number of COVID-19 cases reported so far.

Many countries in the northern hemisphere are seeing a concerning rise in cases and hospitalisations.

And intensive care units are filling up to capacity in some places, particularly in Europe and North America.

Over the weekend, a number of leaders critically evaluated their situation and took action to limit the spread of the virus.

We understand the pandemic fatigue that people are feeling.

It takes a mental and physical toll on everyone.

Working from home, children being schooled remotely, not being able to celebrate milestones with friends and family or not being there to mourn loved ones – it’s tough and the fatigue is real.

But we cannot give up.

We must not give up.

Leaders must balance the disruption to lives and livelihoods with the need to protect health workers and health systems as intensive care fills up.

In March, health workers were routinely applauded for the personal sacrifice they were making to save lives.

Many of those health workers, who have themselves gone through immense stress and trauma, are still on the frontlines, facing a fresh wave of new patients.

We must do all we can to protect health workers, and the best way to do that is for all of us to take every precaution we can to reduce the risk of transmission, for ourselves and others.

No one wants more so-called lockdowns. But if we want to avoid them, we all have to play our part.

The fight back against this pandemic is everyone’s business.

We cannot have the economic recovery we want and live our lives the way we did before the pandemic.

We can keep our kids in school, we can keep businesses open, we can preserve lives and livelihoods. We can do it!

But we must all make trade-offs, compromises and sacrifices.

For individuals, families and communities, that means staying at home and especially if you have been exposed to a case.

Furthermore, you continue to maintain physical distance, wearing a mask, cleaning your hands regularly, coughing away from others, avoiding crowds, or meeting friends and family outside.

For governments, it means doing the same things we have been calling for since day one: know your epidemic.

Break the chains of transmission. Test extensively. Isolate and care for cases. And trace and provide supported quarantine for all contacts.

With these measures, you can catch-up to this virus, you can get ahead of this virus, and you can stay ahead of this virus.

We say this because we have seen many places around the world get ahead and stay ahead of the virus.

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There aren’t magic solutions to this outbreak, just hard work from leaders at all levels of societies, health workers, contact tracers and individuals.

And then, once you have the upper hand, it’s important to strengthen health systems, the health workforce and contact tracing systems so that the virus doesn’t take hold again.

Science continues to tell us the truth about this virus.

How to contain it, suppress it and stop it from returning, and how to save lives among those it reaches.

Many countries and cities have followed the science, suppressed the virus and minimized deaths.

From Dakar to Melbourne, Milan to Islamabad, New York to Beijing.

When leaders act quickly and deliberately, the virus can be suppressed.

For leaders, as my colleague Dr. Mike Ryan said back in March, the most important thing to do is to “move fast, have no regrets.”

But, where there has been political division at the national level; where there has been blatant disrespect for science and health professionals, confusion has spread and cases and deaths have mounted.

This is why I have said repeatedly: stop the politicisation of COVID-19.

A pandemic is not a political football. Wishful thinking or deliberate diversion will not prevent transmissions or save lives.

What will save lives is science, solutions and solidarity.

That is why we say solidarity, solidarity solidarity.

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Finally, last week WHO conducted its first global e-learning course on health and migration, addressing a critical and often neglected topic of global health.

The course included being directly connected live with health and migration projects on the ground so that they could receive direct feedback from those in the field.

There were people attending from 122 different countries worldwide and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all individuals, all involved in this course.

All of public health suffers when any community is excluded.

It's vital that all countries include refugees and migrants in their national policies as part of their commitment to universal health coverage.

I hope the knowledge gained through this course will act as a catalyst for health policies that include migrants and refugee communities.

Health for all, means all.

I thank you