Coronavirus: ‘Beware false finish line,' WHO tells Europe and North America

Samuel Lovett
·2-min read
Mike Ryan (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Mike Ryan (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The World Health Organisation has warned Europe and North America against the dangers of setting a “false” finish line in the fight against coronavirus, saying that the two regions should follow the example of Asia in persevering with anti-Covid measures.

Europe has recorded up to 8,500 deaths over the past week, while almost half of the continent has seen a 50 per cent rise in cases, according to Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergency expert.

In America, there have been an average of 59,261 cases per day during the same period - an increase of 34 per cent from two weeks earlier.

Meanwhile, authorities in China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have largely succeeded in suppressing a second wave of the pandemic, having implemented effective test, trace and isolate systems that have helped to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Populations within these countries have also shown "higher levels of trust" in their governments, which implemented measures for longer, Dr Ryan said.

"In other words, they ran through the finish line and beyond and they kept running, because they knew the race wasn't over, that finish line was false,” he told a news conference.

“They didn’t start reducing testing centres. They increased testing. They didn’t start reducing clinical capacity. They increased clinical capacity.

"The countries in Asia, south Asia, the Western Pacific that have been successful to my mind have really continued to follow-through on those key activities.

“Too many countries have put an imaginary finishing line and when they cross this may have decelerated some of their activities."

Dr Ryan linked soaring transmission rates in the northern hemisphere to the failure to quarantine people exposed to the virus.

He said if he could have one wish, it would be to ensure “every contact of a confirmed case is in quarantine for the appropriate period”.

“I do not believe that has occurred systematically, anywhere,” Dr Ryan said, adding it was “a good part of the reason why we’re seeing such high numbers”.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also urged authorities and populations not to ease up in the fight against Covid-19.

"I know there's fatigue but the virus has shown that when we let our guard down, it can surge back at breakneck speed and threaten hospitals and health systems," Dr Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO’s warnings come as Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government's chief scientific advisor, suggested that the disease may become endemic due to the likelihood that a vaccine would not be fully effective in blocking transmission.

Prof Vallance told a select committee on national security that authorities would likely need to manage Covid-19 on a year-by-year basis in the same way as flu.

He insisted that the strategy of attempting to eradicate the disease, which has been adopted in countries such as New Zealand and Australia, was “not right because it’ll come back”.

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