World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says people must stay safe, smart and informed. Picture: WHO
World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says people must stay safe, smart and informed. Picture: WHO

Some countries not taking Covid-19 'serious enough': WHO

By dpa corresondents Time of article published Mar 5, 2020

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Geneva - Many countries have still not made the fight against the novel coronavirus a top priority involving entire governments and societies, the UN's health chief warned on Thursday, as the Covid-19 outbreak continued to expand its reach.

"It's a long list," World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters when asked which countries have left the virus to their health ministries instead of taking an all-country approach that is led by the head of state or government.

"We're concerned that some countries have either not taken this seriously enough, or have decided there's nothing they can do," Tedros said.

The Covid-19 virus, which emerged in China and has since spread far beyond, can be contained with aggressive measures, he stressed, pointing to falling infection numbers in China as well as policies implemented in countries such as Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea.

The virus has killed more than 3,200 people and infected more than 95,000 worldwide, the WHO chief said, while also pointing to encouraging slowdowns in new cases in China and South Korea.

But the virus pushed into another corner of Europe on Thursday, with Bosnia-Herzegovina reporting its first case, while Switzerland and Britain recorded their first deaths.

Italy is still the country worst affected in Europe and coronavirus cases there jumped to 3,858 on Thursday from 3,000 a day earlier, the country's Civil Protection Agency reported.

Rome doubled funding for a package of measures to mitigate the economic impact of the virus, to 7.5 billion euros (8.4 billion dollars).

Italy's government also decided postponed a March 29 constitutional referendum due to the crisis.

In the Netherlands, infections more than doubled over the past 24 hours to 82 cases, the Health Minister said.

In Britain, where there are a total of 115 infections, the first person to die was a patient who had underlying health conditions.

France confirmed a rise of 92 cases since yesterday, bringing its total to 377. Two further deaths were recorded, bringing the total to six.

However, France's Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Thursday that municipal elections across the country would go ahead on March 15 and 22.

The economic effects of the disease also continued to ripple as more events were cancelled, including the Tomorrowland Winter electronic music festival in France.

And as events were axed or postponed, airlines cut capacity and connections.

Low-cost airline Norwegian Air said it is suspending 22 long-haul flights between Europe and the US, citing lower demand, following other airlines that have reduced trans-Atlantic service.

Similarly, Poland's flagship airline carrier LOT extended its suspension of flights to Beijing until April 25, and suspended flights from Budapest to Seoul until April 8.

Worldwide, airlines will suffer revenue losses of at least 63 billion dollars this year because of the coronavirus outbreak, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said, doubling its previous estimate.

While the estimate is based on the assumption that the virus can be contained, losses could reach 113 billion dollars if it spreads further, the industry group warned, adding that passenger demand will drop by 19 per cent this year in this scenario.

The new coronavirus originated in China late last year and has since spread to every continent apart from Antarctica.

Iran, which has the highest coronavirus cases in the Middle East, has closed schools and universities, as well as cinemas and theatres. On Thursday, the health minister even advised citizens to avoid using cash to help stem the spread.

Iran has so far confirmed 3,513 coronavirus cases, resulting in a total of 107 deaths.

Some people catch the virus and never show signs of illness, but the elderly and people with pre-existing breathing problems are more at risk.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament said it would hold next week's plenary session in Brussels, rather than travelling to its regular seat in the French city of Strasbourg.

According to updated advice from the parliament's medical service, the journey to Strasbourg "would involve significantly higher health risks for members and staff as well as the local population," parliament president David Sassoli wrote to EU lawmakers.

The EU and India also scrubbed a March 13 summit due to fears about the virus.


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