'Don't let this fire burn' - What happened at the WHO COVID-19 briefing

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at today's COVID-19 briefing. Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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  • The World Health Organization held a media briefing to update the public on the COVID-19 outbreak, streamed live at 16.30 CET on Friday 13 March.
  • Cases of coronavirus now top 137,000 globally, with the WHO declaring the outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday, but "one that could be controlled".

As worldwide cases of COVID-19 rise above 137,000 and one country after another forces schools and businesses into lockdown, here's what you need to know about the spread of the coronavirus, from officials at the World Health Organization in Geneva.


5 Key steps to take

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained that the virus has continued to spread and that Europe had become its new epicentre. Still, he said, measures could still be taken to fight the outbreak. He outlined 5 key steps:

1. Prepare and be ready. Every person and healthcare worker should know the signs and symptoms of the infection, and every healthcare facility should have a protocol to cope with patients, he said.

2. Detect, protect and treat. Tracing the transmission of the virus is essential, said the Director-General. “You can’t fight a virus if you don’t know where it is. You must break the chains of transmission.”

3. Reduce transmission. Efforts to limit travel and cancel large events should be time-limited, based on local needs and reviewed on an evolving basis. Said the Director-General: “Don’t just let this fire burn.”

4. Innovate. While hygiene basics and social distancing will remain important, finding creative ways to reduce transmission and increase capacity for healthcare systems will help slow the spread of the virus.

5. Give. At the briefing, the officials announced the launch of the COVID-19 Solidarity Fund, a way for individuals to make donations and help with the purchasing of equipment (such as masks, gloves and hospital gowns) as well as contribute to investments in research. “Every dollar donated is a dollar donated to saving lives.”


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

Stand up against stigma

Officials were careful not to say any one country or group had failed in its reaction to the virus. Stigma is “another word for exclusion” and it’s more effective at this time to remember our most vulnerable, including prisoners and migrants, said Dr. Michael J. Ryan, WHO Executive Director of Health Emergencies.

He stressed that everyone fighting the virus was part of a team. “We share failure in the same way that we share success.”

“No one is at fault for this virus,” added Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical Lead of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

“Be fast and have no regrets.”

Dr. Michael J. Ryan, WHO Executive Director of Health Emergencies

Lessons from Ebola

At the briefing, Ryan shared takeaways from his experience of tackling the Ebola virus.

During that global outbreak, Ryan held many roles including field epidemiologist, field coordinator and director.

The most important lesson he learned, he said, was to not let perfection get in the way of speed. “You must react quickly. You must interrupt the chains of transmission. Speed trumps perfection."

"The greatest error is not to move," said Ryan. “Be fast and have no regrets.”

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