GENEVA, April 21 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that all available evidence suggests that the novel coronavirus originated in bats in China late last year and it was not manipulated or constructed in a laboratory.
U.S. President Donald Trump said last week that his government was trying to determine whether the virus emanated from a lab in Wuhan in central China.
“All available evidence suggests the virus has an animal origin and is not manipulated or constructed virus in a lab or somewhere else,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a Geneva news briefing. “It is probable, likely that the virus is of animal origin.”
It was not clear how the virus had jumped the species barrier to humans but there had “certainly” been an intermediate animal host, she added.
(Reporting by Emma farge and Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Stephanie Nebehay; ; editing by John Stonestreet)
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WHO Reluctant to call it a Pandemic
The current outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), continues to spread, and as of March 11, 2020, it has reached 115 countries, with 119 239 cases and 4287 deaths.
In January, WHO decided to define the outbreak of COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern, which triggered the release of funding and other resources.
Despite SARS-CoV-2 now being present in every continent apart from Antartica, WHO remains reluctant to make the next step and call the outbreak a pandemic.
On March 5, Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, stated that while the outbreak might be uncontrolled in some settings, it is not yet uncontrollable and that would be the threshold to pass for the definition of a pandemic. However, on March 8, Tedros admitted that the threat of a pandemic is becoming very real, and should WHO decide to call the outbreak a pandemic, it would be “the first pandemic that could be actually controlled”.
What are reasons behind WHO’s reluctance to define the outbreak of COVID-19 an pandemic and what difference would it make? There are mixed views about the impact that a declaration of a pandemic by WHO would have. On the one hand, a declaration of a pandemic would favour a change of strategy in managing COVID-19 with more focus on implementing social distancing measures and less empashis on border closure, which might help to flatten the epidemic curve. Moreover, several insurance companies have policies that will pay claims only if a formal declaration of pandemic is made by WHO. On the other hand, senior WHO official Michael Ryan and others cautioned against “the dangers of using the pandemic word”. The main concern is that calling the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic might prompt governments to needlessly or prematurely change their strategies in ways that could undermine their efforts at containment.
These concerns stem from the fact that in outbreak management, two approaches for disease control can be considered: if a pathogen has slow transmission capacity, containment is the approach that permits adoption of measures that limit the spread of a pathogen within well-defined foci (eg, identification and isolation of infected patients, contact tracing, and quarantine of small areas where cases have appeared); by contrast, when a pathogen starts to spread rapidly and there is sustained local transmission, rendering it impossible to isolate all cases, mitigation measures should be put in place with aims such as slowing down the spread of a pathogen within a country or region.
Mitigation measures, such as the closure of schools and banning of mass events, specifically aim at avoiding overburdening health systems with an escalation of cases in need of intensive care.
The current lockdown of Italy in the face of the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases has this specific goal. The time gained through mitigation measures can potentially also allow the evaluation of new therapeutic options and in the long run the development of a vaccine.
WHO’s current position is that in most areas containment of COVID-19 is still possible, so a declaration of a pandemic would hamper the commitment of individual countries to put in place rapidly and effectively the required containment measures.
WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Regional Director from the Western Pacific Dr. Takeshi Kasai
WHO Regional Director from the Western Pacific Dr. Takeshi Kasai warned today that people will need to get used to “a new way of living” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The WHO played down the virus parroting China or several weeks earlier this year which allowed the virus to spread globally earlier this year. The WHO even claimed the virus could not be spread from human-to-human contact.
And now the WHO is telling the world to get used to it!
The Mirror reported:
The World Health Organization has warned that a “new way of living” will be needed until a coronavirus vaccine is ready.
Takeshi Kasai, the WHO’s regional director for the Western Pacific, has said that lifting lockdown measures too quickly will leave countries vulnerable to new surges of infections.
The body has urged governments to lift social distancing measures gradually, to keep the deadly bug in check.
Speaking at an online press conference, Dr Kasai added that no country is safe from a potentially overwhelming outbreak if Covid-19 is still circulating.
As a result, ordinary people’s lives and health systems will both need to adapt because of the global pandemic.
On February 1, when there were 14,000 recorded cases in the world, Australia banned flights from China – despite the World Health Organisation advising against the move.
Asked why Australia banned travel before other nations, he said: ‘Because we had a huge amount of traffic from China with 160 flights plus a week.
‘China was clearly the epicentre and the virus was spreading rapidly around China.
‘We knew the greatest risk was imported cases and as an island we were in a position of perhaps doing border measures more effectively than other countries.’
Professor Murphy said he told the prime minister to ban flights from China on a Saturday morning and the measures were announced that night.