Coronavirus: World Health Organization warns pandemic 'accelerating', countries need to 'attack'

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is "accelerating", according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which warned nations must "attack" the virus with "aggressive and targeted tactics".

Speaking at his regular press briefing on Tuesday morning (NZT), WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained that it took 67 days for the world to reach 100,000 cases of COVID-19, 11 days for the second 100,000 and only four to reach 300,000. According to Johns Hopkins' University, there are now 353,000 cases, with 15,000 people dead.

Dr Ghebreyesus said "the pandemic is accelerating", but that the world is not a "prisoner to statistics".

"We're not helpless bystanders. We can change the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Numbers matter, because they're not just numbers. They're people, whose lives and families have been turned upside down," Dr Ghebreyesus said.

"What matters most is what we do. You can't win a football game only by defending. You have to attack as well."

He explained that measures like physical distancing and having the public stay at home are defensive measures and that "aggressive and targeted tactics" like testing every suspected COVID-19 case, isolating and caring for the confirmed and tracing close contacts was also pivotal in attacking the virus' spread.

Dr Ghebreyesus also thanked countries for working together in training health professionals to combat the virus and for sharing protective equipment. 

"The rule of the game to kick COVID-19 out is solidarity."

The football references came after WHO and soccer organisation FIFA launched a campaign to get the message about coronavirus out. Prior to the press briefing, FIFA president Gianni Infantino spoke with Dr Ghebreyesus about the seriousness of the illness and why people must act vigilantly. 

Outside of China, where the virus originated, Italy continues to be hit hardest by the illness. It has recorded nearly 60,000 cases with just over 5400 dead. The United States has the third-highest number of cases with 35,000.

Many countries around the world, including New Zealand, have implemented strict lockdown procedures in order to limit people's exposure to the virus. That means those nations have closed their borders, don't allow travel outside or within the country, and are asking their residents to remain indoors. 

What we know about coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) was first notified of cases of the virus SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) in Wuhan, China on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread via human-to-human transmission. It causes the coronavirus COVID-19 illness.

The virus is primarily spread through droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs, however, it can also be contracted by touching surfaces where the illness is present. The length of time the virus stays alive on surfaces isn't fully understood, but some virus can remain active for days. 

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness.

How can I protect myself? 

  • avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands

  • washing your hands before eating

  • carrying a hand sanitiser at all times

  • being particularly mindful of touching your face after using public transport or going to the airport

  • carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)

  • not eating shared or communal food

  • avoiding shaking hands, kissing cheeks

  • regularly cleaning and sanitise commonly used surfaces and items, such as phones and keys

  • avoiding close contact with people suffering from or showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection

  • seeking medical attention if you feel unwell.

A full explainer on protecting yourself from coronavirus can be found here.

The Ministry of Health is reminding the public to get in touch with Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if they have symptoms or concerns.

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