‘You cannot fight a fire blindfolded’: WHO chief blasts slow virus testing response
“The most effective way to prevent infections and save lives, is breaking the chains of transmission. And to do that, you must test and isolate”, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at Monday’s COVID-19 press briefing, held at the UN health agency’s headquarters in Geneva: “Once again, our message is: test, test, test.”
The WHO has repeatedly decried a lack of urgency on the part of many countries when it comes to testing, isolation and contact tracing (i.e. carefully monitoring people who are in close contact with someone who has been infected).
In his Monday briefing, Tedros acknowledged the rapid escalation in social distancing measures worldwide, which include many more school closures, the cancelling of sporting events and, in some countries, the closure of businesses where people congregate, such as restaurants, bars, cinemas, and theatres.
However, simply following guidelines for personal behaviour (such as social distancing, regular handwashing and coughing into your elbow) are, said Tedros, simply not enough to “extinguish the pandemic”.
“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded” he said, underscoring the importance of testing every single case. “We cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected”.
Around 1.5 million tests have been sent to 120 countries by the WHO to meet global demand, and the agency is working with companies to make them available to those in need.
Tedros noted that many countries have already exceeded their capacity to care for mild cases in health facilities and, if they are in that situation, they should prioritize older patients and those with underlying conditions.
One option for patients with mild symptoms is for them to be isolated and cared for at home, he explained. This may put others in the same household at risk, so caregivers should follow WHO guidance on how to provide care as safely as possible.