GENEVA (AN) — The World Health Organization announced on Saturday that the global number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has surpassed 100 000, a grim milestone it said now requires leaders everywhere to "step forward" and save lives.
The latest figures from the U.N. health agency show 101,927 confirmed cases globally, including 80,813 in China, where it was first detected in late December, and 21,110 outside of China. There have been nearly 3,500 deaths attributed to COVID-19: 3,073 in China, and 413 outside of China.
"The spread of this virus can be significantly slowed or even reversed through the implementation of robust containment and control activities," WHO said in a statement that called on all nations to make greater efforts to detect and slow the spread of the virus originating from Wuhan, China.
"China and other countries are demonstrating," WHO said, "that spread of the virus can be slowed and impact reduced through the use of universally applicable actions, such as working across society to identify people who are sick, bringing them to care, following up on contacts, preparing hospitals and clinics to manage a surge in patients, and training health workers."
WHO, which is coordinating the international response, has been developing guidance, distributing medical supplies and informing people how to protect themselves and others. It also hopes to buy more time for researchers to identify effective treatments and develop vaccines.
"We must stop, contain, control, delay and reduce the impact of this virus at every opportunity," the U.N. health agency said.
"Every person has the capacity to contribute, to protect themselves, to protect others, whether in the home, the community, the healthcare system, the workplace or the transport system," it said. "Leaders at all levels and in all walks of life must step forward to bring about this commitment across society."
'Time for pulling out all the stops'
A day earlier, WHO officials warned COVID-19 may not be a seasonal virus that goes away in the summer like the flu.
"We have to assume that the virus will continue to have the capacity to spread,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program. “It’s a false hope to say, yes, that it will disappear like the flu.”
That contradicted the hopes of U.S. health officials, who said the novel coronavirus may be similar to other viral respiratory diseases that are seasonal and decrease in spring and summer.
On Thursday, WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a news media briefing that nations much “pull out all the stops” to fight COVID-19 as it spreads outside of China — with four-fifths of the non-China cases concentrated in three countries: South Korea, Italy and Iran.
"Although a few countries are reporting large numbers of cases, 115 countries have not reported any cases. Twenty-one countries have reported only one case. And five countries that had reported cases have not reported new cases in the past 14 days," he said encouragingly.
"The experience of these countries and of China continues to demonstrate that this is not a one-way street," said Tedros, a politician and public health expert who has headed Ethiopia’s foreign affairs and health ministries. "This epidemic can be pushed back, but only with a collective, coordinated and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of government.
"Still, WHO remains deeply concerned about the increasing number of countries reporting cases, especially those that have weaker health systems, he said, and it also worries that some nations have either not taken the outbreak seriously enough or have decided there’s nothing they can do."
"We are concerned that in some countries the level of political commitment and the actions that demonstrate that commitment do not match the level of the threat we all face," he added. "This is not a drill. This is not the time to give up. This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops."
WHO is urging all countries to activate emergency plans, educate the public and increase testing capacities. It also advises nations to get hospitals ready to take on more patients, ensure that enough health care supplies are available and provide more training for health workers.
"If countries act aggressively to find, isolate and treat cases, and to trace every contact, they can change the trajectory of this epidemic," Tedros said. "If we take the approach that there’s nothing we can do, that will quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy."