WHO warns failure to prepare for coronavirus now ‘could be a fatal mistake’

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A San Francisco Public Works Community Clean volunteer wearing a face mask removes trash on a street in the Chinatown district of San Francisco, California, on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

World Health Organization officials warned that member countries need to prepare for their first COVID-19 cases after seven new countries reported cases for the first time over the last 24 hours.

“Every country must be ready for its first case,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said during a press briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva on Thursday. “No country should assume it won’t get cases. That could be a fatal mistake. This virus does not respect borders.”

“It does not distinguish between races or ethnicities. It has no regard for a country’s GDP or level of development,” he added.

Tedros said that world health officials’ greatest concerns right now are with what’s happening in the rest of the world, not in China, where cases have slowed in recent days. Brazil, Georgia, Greece, North Macedonia, Norway, Pakistan and Romania reported coronavirus cases over the last day, Tedros said.

“We’re at a decisive point,” he said. “The epidemics in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Italy and the Republic of Korea demonstrate what this virus is capable of.”

On Wednesday, WHO officials said the number of new COVID-19 cases outside China exceeded those inside the country for the first time. “The sudden increases of cases in Italy, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Korea are deeply concerning,” Tedros said at the time.

That same day, U.S. health officials confirmed the first possible community transmission of the coronavirus in America, a troubling sign that the virus could be spreading in local cities and towns. The California patient didn’t have a relevant travel history or exposure to another patient with the virus, the CDC said.

Tedros said Thursday that countries must act “swiftly” and “aggressively” to contain the virus. 

“With the right measures, it can be contained,” he said. 

Health officials have said the respiratory disease is capable of spreading through human-to-human contact, droplets carried through sneezing and coughing and germs left on inanimate objects.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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