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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 9 March 2020

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Good afternoon.

First, I’d like to start with a brief update on the Ebola epidemic in DRC. It’s now three weeks since the last case was reported, and a week since the last survivor left the treatment centre. We are now in the countdown to the end of the outbreak.

We continue to investigate alerts and vaccinate contacts every day, and the security situation in North Kivu remains fragile.

In previous Ebola outbreaks we have seen flare-ups even after the end of the outbreak, so we are continuing to provide follow-up care for more than 1100 survivors, and keeping teams on the ground to respond quickly to flare-ups if needed.

The outbreak may be ending – but our determination is not.

And nor is our commitment to combating the COVID-19 epidemic.

As you know, over the weekend we crossed 100,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in 100 countries.

It’s certainly troubling that so many people and countries have been affected, so quickly.

Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real.

But it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled.

The bottom line is: we are not at the mercy of this virus.

The great advantage we have is that the decisions we all make – as governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals – can influence the trajectory of this epidemic.

We need to remember that with decisive, early action, we can slow down the virus and prevent infections. Among those who are infected, most will recover.

Of the 80,000 reported cases in China, more than 70% have recovered and been discharged.

It’s also important to remember that looking only at the total number of reported cases and the total number of countries doesn’t tell the full story.

Of all the cases reported globally so far, 93% are from just four countries.

This is an uneven epidemic at the global level.

Different countries are in different scenarios, requiring a tailored response.

It’s not about containment or mitigation – which is a false dichotomy. It’s about both.

All countries must take a comprehensive blended strategy for controlling their epidemics and pushing this deadly virus back.

Countries that continue finding and testing cases and tracing their contacts not only protect their own people, they can also affect what happens in other countries and globally.

WHO has consolidated our guidance for countries in 4 categories: those with no cases; those with sporadic cases; those with clusters; and those with community transmission.

For all countries, the aim is the same: stop transmission and prevent the spread of the virus.

For the first three categories, countries must focus on finding, testing, treating and isolating individual cases, and following their contacts.

In areas with community spread, testing every suspected case and tracing their contacts becomes more challenging. Action must be taken to prevent transmission at the community level to reduce the epidemic to manageable clusters.

Depending on their context, countries with community transmission could consider closing schools, cancelling mass gatherings and other measures to reduce exposure.

The fundamental elements of the response are the same for all countries:

Emergency response mechanisms;

Risk communications and public engagement;

Case finding and contact tracing;

Public health measures such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and social distancing;

Laboratory testing;

Treating patients and hospital readiness;

Infection prevention and control;

And an all-of-society, all-of-government approach.

There are many examples of countries demonstrating that these measures work.

China, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United States of America and many others have activated emergency measures.

Singapore is a good example of an all-of-government approach – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s regular videos are helping to explain the risks and reassure people.

The Republic of Korea has increased efforts to identify all cases and contacts, including drive-through temperature testing to widen the net and catch cases that might otherwise be missed.

Nigeria, Senegal and Ethiopia have strengthened surveillance and diagnostic capacity to find cases quickly.

Further details on specific actions countries should take in specific contexts are available on WHO’s website.

WHO is continuing to support countries in all four scenarios.

We have shipped supplies of personal protective equipment to 57 countries, we’re preparing to ship to a further 28, and we’ve shipped lab supplies to 120 countries.

We’re also working with our colleagues across the UN system to support countries to develop their preparedness and response plans, according to the 8 pillars.

And we have set up a partners platform to match country needs with contributions from donors.

As you know, more funds are being made available for the response, and we’re very grateful to all countries and partners who have contributed. Just since Friday, Azerbaijan, China, the Republic of Korea, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have announced contributions.

Almost 300 million U.S. dollars has now been pledged to WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

We are encouraged by these signs of global solidarity. And we continue to call on all countries to take early and aggressive action to protect their people and save lives.

For the moment, only a handful of countries have signs of sustained community transmission.

Most countries still have sporadic cases or defined clusters. We must all take heart from that.

As long as that’s the case, those countries have the opportunity to break the chains of transmission, prevent community transmission and reduce the burden on their health systems.

Of the four countries with the most cases, China is bringing its epidemic under control and there is now a decline in new cases being reported from the Republic of Korea.

Both these countries demonstrate that it’s never too late to turn back the tide on this virus.

The rule of the game is: never give up.

We’re encouraged that Italy is taking aggressive measures to contain its epidemic, and we hope that those measures prove effective in the coming days.

Let hope be the antidote to fear.

Let solidarity be the antidote to blame.

Let our shared humanity be the antidote to our shared threat.

I thank you.