WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 13 March 2020

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
13 March 2020

Good afternoon everyone.

I want to start today by acknowledging that even though COVID-19 has captured the world’s attention, there are still many other health issues people continue to face every single day, and that WHO is continuing to work on.

Babies are still being born. Essential surgery is continuing. People still need emergency care after road traffic crashes. People still need treatment for cancer, diabetes, HIV, malaria and many other diseases.

And for all of these, we need health workers. Today I want to send a personal and sincere thank you to every health worker around the world – especially nurses and midwives, who we are celebrating this year through the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

You do a heroic job. We know that this crisis is putting a huge burden on you and your families. We know you are stretched to the limit.

You have our admiration, our respect, and our commitment to doing everything we can to keep you safe and enable you to do your job.

More than 132,000 cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO, from 123 countries and territories.

5,000 people have lost their lives, a tragic milestone.

Europe has now become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China.

More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic.

We’re encouraged that many countries are now acting on the 8 pillars of WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

Most countries now have a national plan; most are taking a multi-sectoral approach and most have laboratory testing capacity.

WHO has evidence-based guidance that every country can use, according to each of the 8 pillars.

And we’re continuing to support countries to prepare and respond.

We have shipped supplies of personal protective equipment to 56 countries, we’re shipping to a further 28 countries, and we’ve sent almost 1.5 million diagnostic tests to 120 countries.

Our message to countries continues to be: you must take a comprehensive approach.

Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all.

Any country that looks at the experience of other countries with large epidemics and thinks “that won’t happen to us” is making a deadly mistake. It can happen to any country.

The experience of China, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and others clearly demonstrates that aggressive testing and contact tracing, combined with social distancing measures and community mobilization, can prevent infections and save lives.

Japan is also demonstrating that a whole-of-government approach led by Prime Minister Abe himself, supported by in-depth investigation of clusters, is a critical step in reducing transmission.

WHO has clear advice for governments, businesses and individuals.

First, prepare and be ready.

Every person must know the signs and symptoms and how to protect themselves and others.

Every health worker should be able to recognize this disease, provide care and know what to do with their patients.

Every health facility should be ready to cope with large numbers of patients, and ensure the safety of staff and patients.

Second, detect, protect and treat.

You can’t fight a virus if you don’t know where it is. Find, isolate, test and treat every case, to break the chains of transmission.

Every case we find and treat limits the expansion of the disease.

Third, reduce transmission.

Do not just let this fire burn.

Isolate the sick and quarantine their contacts. In addition, measures that increase social distancing such as cancelling sporting events may help to reduce transmission. These measures, of course, should be based on local context and risk assessment, and should be time-limited.

Even if you cannot stop transmission, you can slow it down and save lives.

And fourth, innovate and learn.

This is a new virus and a new situation. We’re all learning, and we must all find new ways to prevent infections, save lives, and minimize impact. All countries have lessons to share.

There are simple, effective things we can all do to reduce the risk of infection for ourselves and those around us.

Clean your hands regularly with an alcohol-based rub or soap and water.

Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow if you cough or sneeze.

Stay home if you’re sick.

Avoid unnecessary travel and large social gatherings.

Comply with the advice of your local or national health authority.

Find and share reliable information.

And finally, you can give.

Together with the United Nations Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation, WHO is today launching the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, to enable individuals and organizations to contribute.

Until now, we have been relying mainly on governments to support the response.

We thank all those countries who have supported WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, including Japan, which this week contributed 155 million U.S. dollars.

Now everyone can contribute.

Funds raised will be used to coordinate the response, to buy masks, gloves, gowns and goggles for health workers, to buy diagnostic tests, to improve surveillance, and to invest in research and development.

To give to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, go to who.int, and look for the orange “Donate” button at the top of the page.

We thank Google, Facebook and the individuals who have already contributed.

Every dollar donated is a dollar towards saving lives.

We’re all in this together.

I thank you.

For technical guidance on COVID-19, click here