The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic as the new coronavirus, which was unknown to world health officials just three months ago, has rapidly spread to more than 120,000 people from Asia to the Middle East, Europe and the United States.
“More and more countries are now experiencing clusters of cases or community transmission. We expect that in the days and weeks ahead, the number of cases and the number of deaths will continue to rise rapidly, and we must escalate our response in such a way as to take pre-emptive action wherever possible. Such actions may help to delay the pandemic, giving health-care systems time to prepare and assimilate the impact.
“As we have said many times recently, irrespective of the disease’s trajectory in each country, there are several actions that can and need to be taken. There is no one-size-fits-all approach across the European Region. Describing the situation as a pandemic requires countries to accelerate their efforts, striking the right balance between protecting health, preventing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights. I appreciate that this means governmental authorities often face difficult decisions.
“Whilst every country is responsible for determining the nature and timing of measures introduced to prevent or slow down viral transmission, WHO/Europe considers that social distancing and quarantine measures need to be implemented in a timely and thorough manner. Some of the measures that countries may consider adopting are: closures of schools and universities, implementation of remote working policies, minimizing the use of public transport in peak hours and deferment of nonessential travel.
“COVID-19 impacts the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions most severely. In a spirit of solidarity, we all have to be ready to contribute our part to protect those people at highest risk. As individuals, practising good hygiene and prevention measures as well as applying measures of social distancing, including avoiding crowded places, continue to be very important.
“Those who do not feel well should stay home and contact their health-care providers. Solidarity means that we must strictly abide by the regulations and procedures being put in place by health authorities in our countries.
“WHO/Europe continues to take an active role, working side by side with countries and regional partners in their efforts to prevent or mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our people. We are present on the ground in Italy and are currently deploying missions to 12 countries, with 46 missions held already since February 2020.
“We have to humbly acknowledge that COVID-19 is a fast-evolving situation. We may not always have the best evidence at hand on which to base our decisions, but we do not have the luxury of time to wait until better evidence becomes available. I call on all countries to exchange country experiences and practices in a transparent and timely way. We can all benefit from evidence of measures that have been found to be effective.
“The information we are receiving from other regions is heartening. Taking the appropriate actions in a timely manner can affect the course of this pandemic. In the face of such an alarming situation that is exacting a heavy toll on our health-care services and vulnerable individuals, there can be no doubt that the time-honoured precautionary principle needs to guide our decisions. If we all pull together and recognize that this is the time to put health first, above all other considerations, we can overcome this difficult and challenging moment.
“I wish to salute all those brave and selfless health-care workers who are on the front line, seeking to prevent, contain and mitigate the effects of this pandemic and caring for those who are seriously ill. I thank you for the huge contribution you are making.
“WHO/Europe stands ready to continue to support countries and work alongside its partners to sustain the preparedness and response efforts.”