The worst is far from over

THE World Economic Forum invited the World Health Organisation to present at its virtual media roundtable last week, and Dr Takeshi Kasai presented on behalf of WHO, Western Pacific Region.
The worst is far from over The worst is far from over The worst is far from over The worst is far from over The worst is far from over

Dr Takeshi Kasai

Staff Reporter

Kasai is WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific and this is an edited version of what he had to say.

Four months into the Covid-19 epidemic, in the WHO Western Pacific Region, we have more than 164,000 confirmed cases and around 6600 people have lost their lives.

Countries and areas across our region are at different stages of the pandemic. Except Hubei Province in China in the earlier months of the outbreak, none of the countries in this region have had a large-scale community transmission.

While we are relieved that, for now, the Western Pacific has averted the worst, we are conscious that the pandemic is far from over. And countries should continue to prepare for the large-scale community transmission by engaging communities and strengthening health care capacities.

The key to control Covid-19 in the region has been proactively finding and isolating the cases of Covid-19, tracing and quarantining the contacts and introducing stringent public health distancing measures, including movement controls, comparatively early in the outbreak.

They have averted what would have been devastating consequences of an uncontrolled Covid-19 epidemic. Hospitals have not been overwhelmed, and many deaths have been prevented. But we must also recognise that the socio-economic costs of some of these control measures have been enormous, especially for the most vulnerable.

We are facing a profound and complex challenge: how to control the Covid-19 in our communities, while at the same time, bringing back our economies and societies. As long as the virus is circulating in this interconnected world, and until we have a safe and effective vaccine available, everyone remains at risk.

So, we have to find a way to live with this virus for now, and this is what we call ‘the new normal'. Three weeks ago, I mentioned that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to lifting public health and movement control measures. The effectiveness of each of these measures and what each society values differs by country and by cultures.

What remains true across different country contexts is that the process shouldn't be rushed. Easing restrictions too quickly would bring on a resurgence of disease. It needs to be done in phases, based on scientific evidence and the data on the local context.

And when restrictions are eased, the key to controlling the virus is to ensure well-functioning systems to detect and isolate cases and trace and quarantine their contacts.

It is understandable that everyone's eager to move on. In the Asia Pacific region and beyond, WHO is working with countries on how to ease measures safely, in a way that protects public health, prevents new waves of infection and allows societies to regain some degree of normality. We want healthier customers, workers and students. We need our offices, restaurants, markets, schools, transportation and places of worship to be safe places to work, learn and connect with our communities.

Covid-19 has reminded us of the extent to which everybody depends on health. And each one of us actually can contribute to securing a healthy future and building back our societies and economies.

Each individual's willingness to maintain healthy practices that protect not only themselves but their families, friends, colleagues, communities, health care workers and the vulnerable around them is the foundation of our ability to rebound.

We are in this together and can only get out of this together. In moving forward, we should create a new normal in which we don't have to choose between health and livelihood. Rather, we should bring up both.

The big decisions on how to do this need to be made together, bringing the health sector, economic sector and community together at one table. I believe we can do more than just go back to a variation of the way we did business and delivered health services before Covid-19: This pandemic has fundamentally changed the world we live in, and at lightning speed. It has also presented us with an unprecedented opportunity to fix the flaws and fractures in our health systems and societies that COVID-19 has exposed.

Today, we can work together to shape a new reality, commit to new ways of thinking, living and working that will make us safer from Covid-19 and other threats in future.

Governments are, of course, central to steering us through this. They need to ensure a gradual, flexible and clearly-communicated approach to lead us into this future. The private sector can play a critical role, in adopting flexible and innovative ways to reopen and conduct businesses, while taking necessary steps to reduce the risk of infections in the workplace.

It is also about identifying new opportunities to deliver goods and services that are better than those we had before. There are many people, families and businesses facing difficulties under stay-at-home orders and temporary business closures. I know how hard governments across the region are working to fight both the virus and the hardships it has caused, to maintain society.

It is not an easy journey, but I think it's time for all of us to do our part and work together to realise our new future; a more caring, stronger, healthier society for everyone.

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