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World Health Organization: Coronavirus must generate ‘solidarity not stigma’

People wear face masks at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in China.
UN News/Jing Zhang
People wear face masks at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in China.

World Health Organization: Coronavirus must generate ‘solidarity not stigma’


Investing in preparedness is the smartest way to ensure that the coronavirus and other disease outbreaks are “identified and stopped quickly”, the UN health agency said on Friday.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told journalists via VTC from Kinshasha, Democratic Republic of the Congo, that countries globally are in “a better state of preparedness for COVID-19, the coronavirus, than they were just a week ago”.

And WHO’s efforts to help countries boost their lab capacity continue.

Health workers are the ‘glue’

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It is not uncommon for case definitions to change as more information becomes available. And WHO is seeking clarity on how clinical diagnoses are being made so that other respiratory illnesses, including influenza, are not getting mixed into the COVID-19 data.

“In total, there have been 1,381 deaths in China, including 121 reported today”, he stated, adding that outside the country, “there have been 505 cases in 24 countries and two deaths”. 

Meanwhile, the vice minister of the national health commission said that as of Tuesday, 1,716 health care workers had been infected, and six have died.

“This is a critical piece of information, because health workers are the glue that holds the health system and outbreak response together”, underscored the WHO chief. “But we need to know more about this figure, including the time period and circumstances in which the health workers became sick”.

WHO guidelines have been developed and distributed for health workers taking care of hospitalized patients with acute infections.

“We have been in regular contact with suppliers, asking them to prioritize production and distribution of personal protective equipment to health workers on the front lines”, he said.

Joint mission

Mr. Ghebreyesus also updated on a WHO-led Joint Mission with China that is expected to touch down over the weekend.

It consists of 12 international and WHO experts and a similar number of national expert counterparts from China whose aim is to rapidly inform the next steps in the COVID-19 response and preparedness activities both within China and globally.

I hope that other countries will follow Cambodia’s lead – WHO chief

“Particular attention will be paid to understanding the transmission of the virus, the severity of disease, and the impact of ongoing response measures”, the head of WHO said, noting the importance of reviewing which type of information is needed “so that the world can use this window of opportunity to prepare health systems and workers for possible outbreaks”.  

An evolving situation

Reminding that China has changed the way it reports data from Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, the WHO chief updated that there is a total of 47,505 laboratory-confirmed cases in China, with 16,427 clinically-confirmed cases in Hubei province.

While health workers and responders in China are working in difficult conditions with virtually no sleep, the WHO chief flagged the need to ensure that “we’re getting the most accurate data, as quickly as possible, to assist China and support the global response”.

“We’re working with our Chinese counterparts on these issues, and this is also part of the scope of work for the WHO-led joint mission with China”, he said.

Q&A How to protect yourself when travelling during the coronavirus (COVID-2019) outbreak.

Cambodian solidarity

Thanking Cambodia “for demonstrating to the world the meaning of solidarity”, Mr. Ghebreyesus recalled that while other countries turned away the Westerdam cruise ship, “Cambodia allowed it to dock”.

Hundreds of passengers are currently disembarking and heading to their home countries and 20 who had reported signs of illness have tested negative for the COVID-19 virus.

“I hope that other countries will follow Cambodia’s lead”, stated the WHO chief.


Worrying signs are emerging that the world is not standing in unison with those at the epicenter in China who are saving lives and alleviating suffering.

“Lastly”, he concluded, “I want to say again, from my heart, that that this is the time for solidarity, not stigma”.