• The World Health Organization held a media briefing to update the public on the COVID-19 outbreak. The briefing was streamed live on Wednesday, 22 April.
  • Coronavirus has lead to a new normal that will reshape how societies co-manage risk and cope with public health for the long-term.

Coronavirus will be with us for some time to come, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organiation Director-General.

COVID-19 had spread across the globe, is confirmed to have infected more than 2.5 million people and while some countries are still experiencing the early phases of transmission, countries who thought they’d conquered the virus are seeing a resurgence.

“This virus remains dangerous”, said the Director-General. “Most of the world remains susceptible”.

WHO data has revealed that most countries remain unprepared to effectively fight the virus. According to their figures, 78% of countries had a preparedness plan in place and 76% had surveillance systems to track cases.

Additionally, just less than half had a community engagement plan or an infection prevention and control program. "We see many gaps around the world," the Director-General said.

"Make no mistake," he added. "We have a long way to go."

WHO officials warned that countries will need to continue to grapple with a “new normal” to fight the virus and to guard against complacency, something the Director-General characterized as one of the biggest dangers the world faces.

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.

As well as maintaining many distancing measures for older individuals and closely monitoring travel between countries, this new normal will also include new two-way dialogues between governments and communities regarding changing public health needs, according to Michael J. Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

Stay-at-home measures have sparked protests in some parts of the world. “People are understandably frustrated. People want to get on with their lives”, said the Director-General. “That is what the WHO wants too”.

Two-way communication could help ease frustrations by allowing the public to ask questions and clear away misconceptions. “Governments at all levels and in all countries, must really take on that role of communicating effectively with communities in a two-way dialogue”, said Ryan.

The months ahead might also require the development of a new social contract between governments and their citizens when it comes to restarting sporting matches or other events, said Ryan. “You’re never going to reach a point where there’s absolute scientific evidence that it’s safe to bring 10 people together or 20 or 30 or 40 ... or 200,000”.

Decisions to relax restrictions must be driven by both science and practicality, and communities must decide what risks they are prepared to accept, manage or reduce, said Ryan. As communities co-manage risks, they’ll need to work together to ensure there are measures in place to deal with issues when things go wrong. These measures must be approached on a no-fault basis, said Ryan, “on the basis that we’ve all agreed that this is the best thing to do”.

To stay vigilant, the WHO released a list of six steps earlier this year to help countries suppress the virus. These steps can still be applied by any country regardless of transmission phase and regardless of whether a country has only a few cases or is experiencing a resurgence. Those steps cover a range of comprehensive measures and include:

1. Expanding, training and deploying the public health force.

2. Implementing a system to find every suspected case.

3. Ramping up testing capacity and availability.

4. Identifying and adapting key facilities to treat and isolate patients.

5. Developing a clear plan to quarantine contacts.

6. Refocus the whole of government on suppression and containing COVID-19.

Carrying out these measures requires a dedicated workforce and the development of new processes for the long-term, said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical Lead at the World Health Organizaton.

“The world cannot and will not go back to the way things were, “ said the Director-General. “There must be a new normal, a world that's healthier, safer and better prepared”.