Geneva, March 25, 2020
The pandemic continues to take a massive toll not just on health, but on so many parts of life.
Yesterday, the Government of Japan and the International Olympic Committee took a difficult but wise decision to postpone this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.
I thank Prime Minister (Shinzoe) Abe and the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for making this sacrifice to protect the health of athletes, spectators and officials.
We look forward to next year’s Olympics and Paralympics, which we hope will be an even bigger and better celebration of our shared humanity – and I look forward to joining.
We have overcome many pandemics and crises before. We will overcome this one too.
The question is how large a price we will pay.
Loss of lives
Already we have lost more than 18,500 lives. We know we will lose more – how many more will be determined by the decisions we make and the actions we take now.
To slow the spread of COVID-19, many countries have introduced unprecedented measures, at significant social and economic cost – closing schools and businesses, cancelling sporting events and asking people to stay home and stay safe.
We understand that these countries are now trying to assess when and how they will be able to ease these measures.
The answer depends on what countries do while these population-wide measures are in place.
Asking people to stay at home and shutting down population movement is buying time and reducing the pressure on health systems.
But on their own, these measures will not extinguish epidemics.
The point of these actions is to enable the more precise and targeted measures that are needed to stop transmission and save lives.
Six Lockdown measures
We call on all countries who have introduced so-called “lockdown” measures to use this time to attack the virus.
You have created a second window of opportunity. The question is, how will you use it?
There are six key actions that we recommend.
First, expand, train and deploy your health care and public health workforce.
Second, implement a system to find every suspected case at community level.
Third, ramp up the production, capacity and availability of testing.
Fourth, identify, adapt and equip facilities you will use to treat and isolate patients.
Fifth, develop a clear plan and process to quarantine contacts.
And sixth, refocus the whole of government on suppressing and controlling COVID-19.
These measures are the best way to suppress and stop transmission, so that when restrictions are lifted, the virus doesn’t resurge.
Close schools, businesses
The last thing any country needs is to open schools and businesses, only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence.
Aggressive measures to find, isolate, test, treat and trace are not only the best and fastest way out of extreme social and economic restrictions – they’re also the best way to prevent them.
More than 150 countries and territories still have fewer than 100 cases.
By taking the same aggressive actions now, these countries have the chance to prevent community transmission and avoid some of the more severe social and economic costs seen in other countries.
Health system collapse
This is especially relevant for many vulnerable countries whose health systems may collapse under the weight of the numbers of patients we’ve seen in some countries with community transmission.
Today I joined United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Under-Secretary General for UNOCHA Mark Lowcock and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore to launch the Global Humanitarian appeal, to support the most fragile countries who have already suffered years of acute humanitarian crises.
This is much more than a health crisis, and we are committed to working as one UN to protect the world’s most vulnerable people from the virus, and its consequences.
We also welcome the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. We are all facing a common threat, and the only way to defeat it is by coming together as one humanity, because we are one human race.
We are grateful to the more than 200,000 individuals and organisations who have contributed to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Since we launched it less than two weeks ago, the fund has raised more than US$ 95 million. I would like to offer my deep thanks to GSK for its generous contribution of US$10 million today.
Although we are especially concerned about vulnerable countries, all countries have vulnerable populations, including older people.
Older people carry the collective wisdom of our societies. They are valued and valuable members of our families and communities.
But they are at higher risk of the more serious complications of COVID-19.
We are listening to older people and those who work with and for them, to identify how best we can support them.
We need to work together to protect older people from the virus, and to ensure their needs are being met – for food, fuel, prescription medication and human interaction.
Physical distance doesn’t mean social distance.
We all need to check in regularly on older parents, neighbours, friends or relatives who live alone or in care homes in whatever way is possible, so they know how much they are loved and valued.
All of these things are important at any time, but they are even more important during a crisis.
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for compelling and creative communications about public health.
Last year, WHO announced our first Health for All Film Festival. The volume, quality and diversity of entries far surpassed our expectations.
We received more than 1,300 entries from 110 countries, and today we are announcing a short list of 45 excellent short films about vital health topics.
We are also announcing a distinguished panel of jurors who will judge the short list, with the winners to be announced in May.
We will be showing all the short-listed films in the coming weeks on our website and social media channels.
In these difficult times, film and other media are a powerful way not only of communicating important health messages, but of administering one of the most powerful medicines – hope.
I thank you.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is Director General of the Geneva based World Health Organisation.