HomeNewsCovid-19 pandemic accelerating says WHO as review panel announced

Covid-19 pandemic accelerating says WHO as review panel announced

Former New Zealand PM and Nobel laureate to co-chair inquiry into global response
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• Coronavirus outbreaks are not under control in most countries and the pandemic is still accelerating globally, with infections doubling in the past six weeks, the head of the World Health Organization has warned.
• Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s bleak assessment of the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic – which he said had yet to reach its peak – came as he announced that the UN body was setting up an independent panel to review its response and that of governments, and as confirmed cases worldwide approached 12m.
• Appearing to brush a tear away at one point as he spoke, Tedros underlined the shortcomings that have occurred in the responses of many countries. “We know that when countries take a comprehensive approach based on fundamental public health measures … the Covid-19 outbreak can be brought under control,” he said.
• “But in most of the world, the virus is not under control. It is getting worse … more than 544,000 lives have been lost. The pandemic is still accelerating. The total number of cases has doubled in the last six weeks.”
• The warning was delivered as the US posted yet another daily record for new confirmed cases, totalling 59,000, and the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, said the pandemic was reaching “full speed” on the continent.
• There have also been rises in cases in countries that begun loosening lockdown measures, including Australia, Israel and Spain. Last weekend the UK loosened its restrictions, allowing pubs, restaurants and bars to reopen if they adhered to public health guidelines.

• Q&A
• Coronavirus pandemic: 10 countries of concern

• Brazil 67,964 deaths, 1,713,160 cases
• President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the disease as a “little flu” as it rampaged through his country and mocked measures such as wearing masks. Two health ministers have quit and Brazil’s outbreak is the second-deadliest in the world.
• India 21,129 deaths, 767,296 cases
• India brought in a strict nationwide lockdown in March that slowed the spread of the virus but did not bring it under control. As the country began easing controls, cases surged and it now has the third highest number. Mortality rates are low, but it is unclear if this reflects reporting problems or a relatively resilient population.
• Iran 250,458 cases, 12,305 deaths
• Iran had one of the first major outbreaks outside China. A lockdown slowed its spread but after that was eased in April, cases rebounded. Several senior officials have tested positive, and the government has strengthened controls, including making masks obligatory in public places.
• Israel 33,947 cases, 346 deaths
• Israel had an early travel ban and strict lockdowns, and in April the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared the country an example to the world in controlling Covid-19. But cases that in May were down to just 20 a day, skyrocketed after the country started opening up. Partial controls have been brought back with warnings more could follow.
• Mexico 275,003 cases, 32,796 deaths
• President Andrés Manuel López Obrador joined other populists from across the political spectrum in dismissing the threat from coronavirus; when schools closed in March he shared a video of himself hugging fans and kissing a baby. The outbreak is now one of the worst on the continent.
• Philippines 51,754 cases, 1,314 deaths
• A strict lockdown from March to June kept the disease under control but shrank the economy for the first time in 20 years. Cases have climbed steadily since the country started coming out of lockdown, and President Rodrigo Duterte has said the country cannot afford to fully reopen because it would be overwhelmed by another spike.
• Russia 706,179 cases, 10,825 deaths
• Coronavirus was slow to arrive in Russia, and travel bans and a lockdown initially slowed its spread, but controls were lifted twice for political reasons – a military parade and a referendum on allowing Putin to stay in power longer. Despite having the fourth biggest outbreak in the world controls are now being eased nationwide.
• Serbia 17,342 cases, 352 deaths
• Cases are rising rapidly, hospitals are full and doctors exhausted. But the government has rowed back from plans to bring back lockdown controls, after two days of violent protests. Critics blame the sharp rise in cases on authorities who allowed mass gatherings in May and elections in June. Officials say it is due to a lack of sanitary discipline, especially in nightclubs.
• South Africa 224,664 cases, 3,602 deaths
• South Africa has by far the largest outbreak on the African continent, despite one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. Sales of alcohol and cigarettes were even banned. But it began reopening in May, apparently fuelling the recent rise in cases which have more than doubled over the last two weeks.
• US 132,310 deaths, 3,055,491 cases
• The US ban on travellers from overseas came too late, and though most states had lockdowns of some form in spring, they varied in length and strictness. Some places that were among the earliest to lift them are now battling fast-rising outbreaks, and the country has the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths. Opposition to lockdowns and mask-wearing remains widespread.
• Source: Johns Hopkins CSSE, 9 July
• The WHO has endured a tumultuous week. On Tuesday, the Trump administration gave a formal one-year notice of its intent to withdraw the US from the body, following months of sniping by Donald Trump and his senior officials, who are themselves under fire for their botched handling of the outbreak in the US.
• The US is the WHO’s biggest donor, contributing $400m (£315m) to $500m annually. Trump has accused the body of mishandling the pandemic and of being a “puppet” of China.
• Although Tedros did not refer to the US decision, he did criticise the shortcomings exposed by the international response to the pandemic, in comments that could be interpreted as critical of Trump’s “America first” agenda.
• “The greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself,” he said. “Rather, it’s the lack of leadership and solidarity at the global and national level. We cannot defeat this pandemic as a divided world. The virus thrives on division but is thwarted when we unite.”
• On Thursday the WHO released new guidelines on the transmission of the virus, after more than 200 scientists accused it of underestimating the possibility of transmission via tiny droplets, or aerosols, suspended in the air. Previously the WHO had said that the virus was spread through droplets when people cough or sneeze. The new guidelines acknowledge some reports of aerosol transmission.
• The newly created Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response will be co-chaired by Helen Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Nobel peace prize laureate and former president of Liberia, whom Tedros described as “strong minded and independent leaders”.
• While experts were quick to welcome the role of two highly respected former heads of state rather than academics and international health experts, some insisted that the panel’s full makeup would be crucial in reassuring critics.
• Describing the pandemic as a “decisive moment in recent history”, Tedros said it had “taken the world hostage” as he lamented the inability of global community to unite around a common response.
• “How is it difficult for humans to unite to fight a common enemy that’s killing people indiscriminately?” he said. “Together is the solution, unless we want to give the advantage the enemy, to the virus that has taken the world hostage – and this has to stop.”
• While the review is unlikely to help the WHO’s tensions with the Trump administration, it may be greeted more positively in places such as the European Union, which sponsored calls in May for an investigation into the handling of the outbreak.
• The Guardian understands that the decision to announce the review on Thursday, which was mandated by May’s virtual global health assembly, was taken before the WHO received a letter from the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, this week formally notifying the US intention to quit the body.
• Sources in the global health community nevertheless suggested that the WHO’s decision to hold a review in the middle of the pandemic rather than afterwards was prompted in part by the Trump administration’s treatment of the WHO as a “punchbag” over its interactions with China at the outset of the outbreak.
• Tedros said the WHO would be “an open book” to the investigatory panel and called on other member states to treat the review in the same way.
• The new panel will give a monthly briefing on its progress and present an interim report to the next world health assembly gathering in November.
• Sirleaf said: “I look forward to doing all we can to respond to these challenges that have prevented us from being united in moving forward, not only to address the effects of Covid-19 but to ensure a better health system for all nations of the world.”
• Clark added: “This assignment could only be described as exceptionally challenging.”

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