WHO sees ‘green shoots of hope’ in coronavirus fight as global cases near 20 million

Children sit in class room for the first day of classes of the new school year at the GuthsMuths elementary school during the coronavirus pandemic on August 10, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.

Maja Hitij | Getty Images

The World Health Organization said Monday there are glimmers of hope in the fight against the coronavirus, even as global cases from the virus near 20 million and deaths approach 750,000. 

“I know many of you are grieving and that this is a difficult moment for the world,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference from the agency’s Geneva headquarters. “But I want to be clear, there are green shoots of hope and no matter where a country, a region, a city or a town is, it’s never too late to turn the Covid-19 outbreak around.”

Tedros said some countries in the Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Rwanda and islands across the Caribbean and the Pacific were able to suppress the virus early on.

France, Germany, South Korea, Spain, Italy and the U.K. had major coronavirus outbreaks and they were also able to suppress it, he said. He attributed the decline in the rate of new cases in those countries to “strong and precise” measures from leaders such as stay-at-home orders and mask mandates.

The WHO recommends that people wear masks as a way to slow the spread of the virus as well as washing hands regularly, maintaining distance from others and avoiding crowded places.

“In France, President Emmanuel Macron introduced compulsory masking in busy outdoor spaces of Paris in response to an increase in cases,” Tedros said.

He said whether countries or regions have successfully eliminated Covid-19, suppressed transmission to a low level or are still in the midst of a major outbreak, now is the time to “do it all.” “Invest in the basics of public health and we can save both lives and livelihood,” he said. 

The United States has the worst outbreak in the world with more than 5 million cases and at least 162,900 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. President Donald Trump has attributed the cases to an increase in testing. However, disease experts dispute that claim, saying the rate of cases that test positive in the U.S., hospitalizations and deaths remain high in some states.

At least 162,000 people have already died from the coronavirus and projections previously used by the White House estimate that could climb to nearly 300,00 Americans by Dec.1. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation also expects an increase in the number of hospital beds and ventilators that will be needed.

Public health experts and infectious disease specialists say a strong, coordinated message on the virus from the federal government and U.S. states is more important than ever as health officials fear the virus may be widely circulating in parts of the Midwest now.

In recent weeks, whether and how to reopen schools in the U.S. this fall has become a hotbed issue as the role children play in spreading the disease is still unclear. On Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all school districts across the state had been authorized to reopen for the fall semester, including New York City, the nation’s largest school district.

Tedros addressed reopening schools Monday, saying countries should use a “risk-based approach” while remaining “vigilant” for potential clusters.

“We all want to see schools safely reopened but we also need to ensure that students, staff and faculty are safe,” he said. “The foundation for this is adequate control of Covid-19 transmission.”

He said his message is clear: “suppress, suppress, suppress the virus.”

“If we suppress Covid-19 effectively, we can safely open up societies,” he said.

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