The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that that COVID-19 is a pandemic.
In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled.
There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives.
Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals.
In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.
WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.
We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.
Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.
Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.
We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.
And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time.
WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases.
And we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action.
We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear. . .
WHO has rung the alarm bell. Has our government heard it?
As I said on Monday, just looking at the number of cases and the number of countries affected does not tell the full story.
Of the 118,000 cases reported globally in 114 countries, more than 90 percent of cases are in just four countries, and two of those – China and the Republic of Korea – have significantly declining epidemics.
81 countries have not reported any cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less.
We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic.
If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.
Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide on this virus.
Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.
The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same – it’s whether they will. . .
New Zealand is not dealing with large clusters or community transmission – yet.
This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector – so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.
I have said from the beginning that countries must take a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach, built around a comprehensive strategy to prevent infections, save lives and minimize impact.
Let me summarize it in four key areas.
First, prepare and be ready.
Second, detect, protect and treat.
Third, reduce transmission.
Fourth, innovate and learn.
I remind all countries that we are calling on you to activate and scale up your emergency response mechanisms;
Communicate with your people about the risks and how they can protect themselves – this is everybody’s business;
Find, isolate, test and treat every case and trace every contact;
Ready your hospitals;
Protect and train your health workers.
And let’s all look out for each other, because we need each other. . . .
Are you confident that the government is taking this as seriously as it should be?
Friends flew home from South Africa a couple of days ago. In Singapore everyone in transit was asked lots of questions about where they had been, and their passports were checked to confirm what they’d said.
When they got to Auckland there were only two border staff on duty, all the disembarking passengers were crowded together in the queue. Nothing was said about Covid-19 but the the officer put a piece of paper in her husband’s passport which gave information about the disease.
A friend flew from the USA a couple of days ago, found only a couple of border staff on duty and a similarly low-key approach to the risk of Covid-19.
This does not seem to be taking WHO’s directive to detect and protect seriously enough.
That large public events are still going ahead, including the commemoration of the anniversary of March 15’s mosque massacre doesn’t seem to be taking the directive to reduce transmission seriously enough.
Are our hospitals ready? Are health workers trained and protected?
The health system is over-stretched at the best of times. What is being done to ensure it, and the people working in it, cope with what could be the worst of times?
And what’s being done to ensure people with symptoms self-isolate?
The government must pay people who stay away from work because they have the illness or have been in close contact with people with it.
These workers must not be left out of pocket or forced to go to work because they can’t afford not to and businesses should not have to cover that cost either.
That is one of the recommendations from David Farrar .
Should the government be unsure of what to do, following them would be a good idea.
There is no need to panic but there is urgent need to do everything possible to ensure everyone is doing everything possible to minimise the harm from the pandemic.