Pandemic not over for Pacific

THE coronavirus pandemic is not yet over for Asia and the Pacific.
Pandemic not over for Pacific Pandemic not over for Pacific Pandemic not over for Pacific Pandemic not over for Pacific Pandemic not over for Pacific

Dr Takeshi Kasai

Takeshi Kasai

This was the stern warning this week from Dr Takeshi Kasai, who is the World Health Organisation's regional director for the Western Pacific when he held a virtual media conference on the subject.
 
This is an edited version of what Dr Kasai said.
 
March 31 marks three months since WHO was alerted to a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown cause in Wuhan, China. Since then, the world as we know it has changed swiftly and dramatically, affecting millions of people's lives.
 
I'm so saddened by the fact that more than 33,000 people around the world have lost their lives to coronavirus in the past three months, and I would like to express my deepest sympathy to those who have lost loved ones.
 
The Western Pacific Region was hit hard by SARS in 2003. We have been preparing for an event like this ever since, but this is a pandemic unlike the world has ever seen and it has challenged our systems, and put a strain on people's lives, in an unprecedented way.
 
The special situation was met with special measures over the past 3 months to protect the population. Fortunately - with the exception of the initial situation in Hubei Province, China—this region has not yet seen large-scale community transmission of coronavirus.
 
Rather, in recent days, eyes have been fixed on the rapid spread of the virus in Western Europe and North America, which are now seen as the new epicentre of the pandemic.
 
But let me be clear: the epidemic is far from over in Asia and the Pacific. This is going to be a long-term battle, and we cannot let down our guard. We need every country to keep responding according to their local situation, and at the same time, we need every country to keep preparing for large-scale community transmission. And if we want every country to prepare and respond, we need to do it together.
 
We are very much encouraged by countries in the region that have pushed back the virus or managed to slow their epidemics.
 
We recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to preparing for and responding to an emergency like this, but we have found common tactics in these countries. Those are:
 
• Finding, isolating and treating cases early.
 
• Tracing and quarantining contacts quickly.
 
• Putting in place multiple public health interventions to increase physical distance between people to slow and stop transmission.
 
• Mobilising and engaging every community to protect themselves and the most vulnerable.
 
But we need to be clear, that even with all of these measures, the risk will not go away as long as the pandemic continues. Rather, these measures can buy us valuable time to prepare for large-scale community transmission. And we also have to find a way to make our societies get running again.
 
Preparing for large-scale community transmission must reach every corner and community of every country, to make sure that nobody is left behind. For this, we need all local authorities and communities to be fully engaged.
 
Here at WHO, we are especially focused on helping resource-limited countries with fragile health systems. We've provided a range of support, including the procurement and delivery of personal protective equipment and diagnostic tests to these countries.
 
We also have to make sure there is minimal disruption to routine health services, such as immunisation for children and TB treatment, in those resource-limited countries.
 
But what we think is most important is individuals' mindset and practices to protect the vulnerable. Those who are most susceptible are the elderly, people with pre-existing conditions, and also our health workers. Health workers are the group that's more exposed to the virus than anyone else, and they are critical to the response.
 
I'd like to relay a few important messages:
 
• For countries that are seeing cases taper off: this is no time to let down your guard. If we do, the virus will come surging back. You must keep up your efforts and help other countries in whatever ways you can.
 
• For those seeing their first cases or managing new spikes in cases: stay strong, stick with the tactics that work and know that flattening the curve is within reach.
 
• For young people: please know that low risk does not mean ‘no risk'. Young, previously healthy people are among those with COVID-19 in hospitals right now. And if you don't take precautions, you're not only putting your own health at risk, but the health of those around you.
 
• And to all people across the region: please support efforts to fight coronavirus and take action to protect your family, colleagues, community, and the vulnerable.

 

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