• The World Health Organization’s Director-General noted that some countries can do more to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • He called for urgent action to ramp up efforts to identify, isolate and contact trace people with the disease.
  • Testing all suspected cases is a vital part of understanding the scale of the outbreak and how it is evolving.

“We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test.”

These are the words of Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, speaking at a virtual press conference where he expressed concern over the action some nations have taken on detecting and containing the COVID-19 virus.


As global cases exceed 167,000 and continue to rise, he emphasized the critical need to escalate testing, isolation and contact tracing efforts, which he termed the “backbone” of the response.

“Test every suspected case, if they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in contact with two days before they developed symptoms and test those people, too,” he said.

Positive testing

Large-scale testing allows health services to quickly identify who has the disease and arrange for them to receive the care needed. Isolating known cases prevents them from coming into contact with others and slows the rate of transmission.

Effective testing programmes allow governments and health authorities to understand how prevalent the disease is and how it is evolving. Tracking positive test results helps authorities make evidence-based decisions to try to slow the spread of the disease.

Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
The effect intervention measures can have on slowing the acceleration of the number of cases.
Image: CDC

Identifying and isolating those with the virus also helps to avoid a sudden spike in new patients.

Slowing the rate of new infections reduces the peak of the disease, which can lower the overall number of cases. Effective testing and quarantine measures help ease the pressure on health services, which can quickly become overwhelmed as demand surges for respirators and other critical lifesaving equipment.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

On the case

Although no individual country was singled out for criticism by the WHO Director-General, some governments have been slower to respond to the coronavirus outbreak than others.

Aggressive testing and social distancing measures in countries like South Korea, where more than 220,000 tests were conducted, helped identify more than 8,200 people with the virus and slow its transmission. The country has recorded 75 fatalities, a much lower mortality rate than many other COVID-19 hotspots.

A medical staff member in protective gear prepares to take samples from a visitor in his car at 'drive-thru' testing center for the novel coronavirus disease of COVID-19 in Yeungnam University Medical Center in Daegu, South Korea Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
Drive-through testing facilities were set up in parts of South Korea.
Image: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By comparison, the absence of a coordinated federal level response in the US could mean many cases remain undetected.

State and local leaders have criticized delays in making tests available at the beginning of the outbreak, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limited testing to recent visitors to China, then at the heart of the outbreak. Federal regulators have since given private labs permission to conduct tests and Vice President Mike Pence has announced plans to expand testing capabilities across the US.

“For any country, one of the most important things is the political commitment at the highest level,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus states. “All countries should be able to test all suspected cases. They cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded; they should know where the cases are.”