The head of the World Health Organisation told the opening session of the second Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum on Sunday that the containment strategy for coronavirus was working “in some countries” and called for those efforts to continue as the global crisis rolls on.
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The WHO has named the illness Covid-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus strain that causes it.
“We shouldn’t abandon the containment strategy because we see it’s working in some countries,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, told the 1,300 delegates gathered in Riyadh, without identifying specific cases.
While countries need to prepare for a pandemic, the numbers show there’s no such threat yet, he said.
The global health chief also warned against fear-mongering, saying panic was “more impactful than the virus itself”.
“In China, where it started, the number of patients [contracting the virus] is on the decline and many provinces are not reporting coronavirus cases.”
Mr Tedros said: “We need to go into the numbers, we need to go into the facts and do the right thing instead of panicking.”
But he said a balance must be found between containment and preparation for further outbreak.
“The window of opportunity for containing it is narrowing,” he said. “We need to be preparing side by side for a pandemic”.
Only 6,000 cases have been confirmed outside China among a population of 6.2 billion, he said, meaning there is just one case of coronavirus per one million people.
More than 50 per cent of the countries who have reported coronavirus have only reported one case, he added.
“Because of the intervention that China was taking, the spread of the virus to the rest of the world was slow. We need to use this window of opportunity to contain the virus.”
As well as the World Health Organisation, executives from the World Food Programme and the Islamic Development Bank discussed the global focus on the outbreak and its detrimental impact on funding other humanitarian needs.
WFP head David Beasley said the coverage of coronavirus is a distraction when millions are dying of hunger worldwide.
“We’ve had a few thousand deaths over the last few months from coronavirus; we had 17,000-18,000 deaths yesterday from hunger,” he said.
“In the last two years with all the crises around the world, the media was concerned with only two things – Trump Trump Trump or Brexit Brexit Brexit – now it’s Trump Trump Trump and coronavirus coronavirus,” he added.
Mr Beasley listed conflicts in the Sahel, Syria and Yemen and food crises in Sudan and Somalia as issues that need “significant” funding right now amid market fluctuations blamed on coronavirus.
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