International Alliance for COVID-19 Community Response
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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 3 August 2020

Good morning, goodafternoon and good evening.

On Friday, theEmergency Committee on COVID-19 met and reviewed the current pandemic.

It was a sobering momentcoming six months on from when the Committee advised, and I agreed, that theoutbreak constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

At the time, 30January, there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths outside of China.

When the Committeemet three months ago, three million cases of COVID-19 had been reported to WHO,and more than 200,000 deaths.

Since then, thenumber of cases has increased more than fivefold to 17.5 million, and thenumber of deaths has more than tripled, to 680,000.

In addition to thedirect toll COVID-19 is having, the Committee noted the health impact thatdisrupted services are having on a range of other diseases.

That compoundswhat we already know about reduced immunisation coverage, cancer screening andcare, and mental health services.

A survey ofresponses from 103 countries between mid May and early July found that 67percent of countries report disruption in family planning and contraceptionservices.

More than half ofcountries reported disruption in antenatal care services and more than a thirdof countries reported disruption in child birth services.

On top of thehealth impact, we have seen the damage COVID-19 has caused socially,economically and politically.

The Committee putforward a number of recommendations for countries to continue to implement tobring the virus under control.

These range fromsharing best practice, to enhancing political commitment and leadership fornational strategies and localized response activities driven by science, data,and experience.

We know fromserology studies that most people remain susceptible to this virus, even inareas that have experienced severe outbreaks.

Over the past weekweve seen several countries that appeared asthough they were past the worst now contending with fresh spikes in cases.

However, weve also seen how some countries, regions orlocalities that had a high number of cases are now bringing the outbreak undercontrol.

Its not easy, of course. Strict measures maycause their own problems for delivery of essential health services, the economyand societies overall.

The Committeeacknowledged that Member States have tough choices to make to turn the epidemicaround.

But they were alsoclear that when leaders step up and work intensely with their populations, thisdisease can be brought under control.

We learn every dayabout this virus and Im pleased that the world has made progress in identifying treatmentsthat can help people with the most serious forms of COVID-19 recover.

The Committeerecommended that countries engage in the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT)Accelerator, participate in relevant clinical trials, and prepare for safe andeffective therapeutics and vaccine introduction.

A number ofvaccines are now in phase three clinical trials and we all hope to have anumber of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection.

However, theres no silver bullet at the moment and theremight never be.

For now, stoppingoutbreaks comes down to the basics of public health and disease control.

Testing, isolatingand treating patients, and tracing and quarantining their contacts. Do it all.

Inform, empowerand listen to communities. Do it all.

For individuals,its about keeping physical distance, wearinga mask, cleaning hands regularly and coughing safely away from others. Do itall.

The message topeople and governments is clear: do it all.

And when its under control, keep going!

Keep strengtheningthe health system.

Keep improvingsurveillance, contact tracing and ensure disrupted health services arerestarted as quickly as possible.

Keep safeguardsand monitoring in place, because lifting restrictions too quickly can lead to aresurgence.

Keep investing inthe workforce and communicating and engaging communities.

We have seenaround the world, that its never too late to turn this pandemic around.

If we act togethertoday, we can save lives, we can save livelihoods if we do it all together.

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This week, were also launching a mask challenge withpartners from around the world and were encouraging people to send in photos of themselveswearing a mask.

As well as beingone of the key tools to stop the virus, the mask has come to represent solidarity.

Like the SafeHands and Healthy-at-home challenges, were going to be spreading further positive messagesabout how everyone has a role to play in breaking chains of transmission.

If youre a health worker, a frontline worker,wherever you are show us your solidarity in following national guidelines and safelywearing a mask whether caring for patients or loved ones,riding on public transport to work, or picking up essential supplies.

As well as handsanitizer, I carry a mask with me all the time and use it when Im in places where there are crowds.

By wearing a mask,youre sending a powerful message to thosearound you that we are all in this together.

Wear a mask whenappropriate, keep your physical distance from others and avoid crowded places,observe coughing etiquette, clean your hands frequently and youll be protecting yourself and others.

Do it all!

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One of the areasthat we have been continuing to study is the origins of the virus that causesCOVID-19.

The WHO advanceteam that travelled to China has now concluded their mission to lay thegroundwork for further joint efforts to identify the virus origins.

As a result ofthese efforts, WHO and Chinese experts have drafted the Terms of Reference forthe studies and programme of work for an international team, led by WHO.

The internationalteam will include leading scientists and researchers from China and around theworld.

Epidemiologicalstudies will begin in Wuhan to identify the potential source of infection ofthe early cases.

Evidence andhypotheses generated through this work will lay the ground for further,longer-term studies.

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Finally, this weekis breastfeeding awareness week. As we have seen again and again, standardpublic health measures are often the most effective and we are reiterating theimportance of breastfeeding, which has lifesaving benefits for babies andfamilies.

At the time ofCOVID-19, especially when there is disruption to health services; WHOrecommends that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should beencouraged, the same as all other mothers, to initiate or continue tobreastfeed.

Mothers should becounselled that the many, many benefits of breastfeeding for newborn babies andchildren substantially outweigh the potential risks for COVID-19 infection.

Mother and infantshould be helped to remain together while rooming-in throughout the day andnight and to practise skin-to-skin contact, including kangaroo mothercare,especially immediately after birth and during establishment of breastfeeding,whether they or their infants have suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

I thank you.