Every country needs to take boldest actions to stop COVID-19

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are holding this press briefing in an empty UN City building, as staff are now working remotely as a social distancing measure due to the coronavirus.

The lives of millions of people in our region are undergoing radical change.  There is, quite simply, a new reality.  The role of public health services is understood.  The value of health workers is appreciated like never before.

As of today, 152 countries across the globe are affected by this new virus and over 7000 people have lost their lives to it. One third of globally reported cases are in the European Region.  
Europe is the epicenter of the first pandemic of coronavirus and every country, with no exceptions, need to take their boldest actions to stop or slow down the virus spread. Boldest action should include community action. Thinking that “this does not concern me” is not an option.

The good news is that the Region is alert and on guard. Preparedness, readiness and response measures on multiple levels have been launched in all our Member States. We monitor those measures on an ongoing basis and hold regular consultations with counterparts in health ministries to gather and share helpful information.

One of the most frequent questions I get asked by our Member States these days is, “Are governments doing enough to stop the epidemic?”. And the second question, “Are governments doing too much. Is it justified?” To answer this, let me set out a few points about the scale of the response in Europe.

First, we are dealing with “Four Cs” scenarios of the outbreak:

  1. no case
  2. first case
  3. first cluster, and
  4. first evidence of community transmission.

The outbreak is progressing at different speeds in different countries depending on demographics and other factors. Some of our Member States are in scenario 2 and 3, many are in 3 and 4. The basic actions in each scenario are the same, but the emphasis changes depending on which transmission scenario a country is in.

Every single country must assess their own situation and context including virus spread, measures in place and social acceptability and adopt the most appropriate interventions.

However, all should work to:

  1. Prepare and be ready;
  2. Detect, protect and treat;
  3. Reduce transmission;
  4. Innovate and learn, while protecting the vulnerable people.

It is not an “either or” solution.  It is a package of comprehensive measures that can bring the best results.

At every step, the public should be informed and guided on how to protect themselves and others, support their communities and maintain a sense of normality in extraordinary circumstances. Health facilities have to have the necessary equipment to care for those seriously affected and to protect health workers from exposure.

We are fortunate that across Europe many countries now have national response plans with efficient multi-sectoral measures and strong laboratory testing capacity. The experience of China and others shows that testing and contact tracing, combined with social distancing measures and community mobilization, when put in place quickly and effectively can prevent infections and save lives.

At the WHO Regional Office for Europe we provide technical expertise and guidance, collate and share information and innovation with all 53 Member States, working with them around the clock.

  • As of today, we have sent expert teams for hospital preparedness, coordination, health sector planning, laboratory services, preparedness & readiness and rapid response on some 40 missions in countries across the Region, on their request.
  • We have also a strong team on the ground in Italy, both in Rome and at the WHO Venice Office.
  • We are working with Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network partners and emergency medical teams to scale up capacity to respond to an increasing demand for support on the ground.
  • WHO is monitoring the potential risk of a disruption to medicine supplies, focusing on essential medicines critical for primary health care and emergencies, including antibiotics, pain killers, and treatments for diabetes, hypertension, HIV, and tuberculosis.
  • WHO delivers laboratory equipment, medical devices, and personal protective equipment to countries in need. We are aware of some critical shortages and are working hand-in-hand with partners like the European Commission, WHO globally and private industry to tackle this.
  • We are working with manufacturers increasingly, on also increasing the laboratory testing capacity.

I want to stress that the demand and the need for our support is growing. Resources are critical to sustain our efforts so that no one is left behind, nor at the sidelines. Everyone in society has a role to play: not to be infected yourself, and if you are infected, to protect others, especially the elderly and the people with underlying medical conditions.

These are unprecedented times. It is important that countries work together, learn from each other and harmonize the efforts. The virus can be beaten back by solidarity within communities, within nations and within our region, together with individual psychological resilience. Thank you very much

Statement to the press by Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe

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