From Our Bureau   

21st AUGUST 2020

The Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic situation remained grim globally, with the confirmed cases across the world soaring to 2,25,36,278 and the death toll reaching 7,89,197 in the 216 affected countries and territories on Friday, according to the latest update from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Globally, American region continued to be the worst-hit with 1,20,28,928 confirmed cases and 4,30,964 deaths. Europe came next with 39,09,981 confirmed cases and 2,15,781 deaths. South-East Asia region’s tally stood at 33,83,904 confirmed cases and 65,314 deaths.

Eastern Mediterranean region reported 17,90,071 confirmed cases and 47,549 deaths. African region registered 9,84,140 confirmed cases and 19,835 deaths. Western Pacific region recorded 4,38,513 confirmed cases and 9,741 deaths. WHO Risk Assessment at global level remained very high.

At media briefing today, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recalled that “last month my colleague Dr Maria van Kerkhove contacted a group called Long COVID SOS, representing patients with long-term effects from COVID-19 infection. This afternoon I had the privilege of speaking with them.”

“They told us about their experience, and the ongoing challenges they face. These patients want three things: recognition, rehabilitation and research. Recognition of their disease, appropriate rehabilitation services, and more research to be done into the long-term effects of this new illness,” he pointed out.

“Although we have learned so much about this disease, we only have less than 8 months of experience to draw on. We still know relatively little about the long-term effects. My message to these patients was: we hear you loud and clear, and we are committed to working with countries to ensure you receive the services you need, and to advancing research to serve you better,” he added.

“Globally, there are now more than 22 million reported cases of COVID-19, and 780,000 deaths. But it’s not just the numbers of cases and deaths that matter. In many countries, the number of patients who need hospitalization and advanced care remains high, putting huge pressure on health systems and affecting the provision of services for other health needs,” he said.

“Several countries around the world are now experiencing fresh outbreaks after a long period with little or no transmission. These countries are a cautionary tale for those that are now seeing a downward trend in cases. Progress does not mean victory. The fact remains that most people remain susceptible to this virus. That’s why it’s vital that countries are able to quickly identify and prevent clusters, to prevent community transmission and the possibility of new restrictions.

“No country can just ride this out until we have a vaccine. A vaccine will be a vital tool, and we hope that we will have one as soon as possible.  But there’s no guarantee that we will, and even if we do have a vaccine, it won’t end the pandemic on its own.

We must all learn to control and manage this virus using the tools we have now, and to make the adjustments to our daily lives that are needed to keep ourselves and each other safe.

“So-called lockdowns enabled many countries to suppress transmission and take the pressure off their health systems.  But lockdowns are not a long-term solution for any country. We do not need to choose between lives and livelihoods, or between health and the economy. That’s a false choice. On the contrary, the pandemic is a reminder that health and the economy are inseparable.

“WHO is committed to working with all countries to move into a new stage of opening their economies, societies, schools and businesses safely. To do that, every single person must be involved. Every single person can make a difference. Every person, family, community and nation must make their own decisions, based on the level of risk where they live.

“That means every person and family has a responsibility to know the level of transmission locally, and to understand what they can do to protect themselves and others. At the same time, we will not – we cannot – go back to the way things were.

“Throughout history, outbreaks and pandemics have changed economies and societies. This one will be no different. In particular, the pandemic has given new impetus to the need to accelerate efforts to respond to climate change. The pandemic has given us a glimpse of our world as it could be: cleaner skies and rivers. Building back better means building back greener.

“In May, WHO published our ‘Manifesto for a Healthy and Green Recovery,’ with 6 policy prescriptions for protecting nature, investing in water and sanitation, promoting healthy food systems, transitioning to renewable energy, building liveable cities, and stopping subsidies on fossil fuels.

“In July we added ‘actionables’ for each of these policy prescriptions, providing 81 concrete steps for policy-makers to build a healthier, fairer, greener world.  Since then, over 40 million health professionals from 90 countries have sent a letter to G20 leaders to call for a Healthy Recovery from COVID-19.

“And we have seen many examples of countries acting to protect lives, livelihoods and the planet on which they depend.  Nairobi, Kenya is improving parks, adding urban forests, building more sidewalks and improving drainage.  Pakistan has set up a ‘green stimulus’ scheme, offering labourers who are out of work as a result of lockdown a chance to earn money by planting trees.

“In the United Kingdom, the use of coal, the most polluting form of energy, fell to its lowest level in 250 years.  Spain is becoming one of the world’s fastest decarbonizing nations, with 7 of the country’s 15 coal-fired power stations recently closed. Portugal has announced it will become coal-free by next year.

“Chile has committed to reducing air pollution and black carbon. Great cities such as Paris have committed to becoming ‘15 minute cities,’ where every service can be easily reached by foot or bike, reducing air pollution and climate change.

“Hardship is always an opportunity to learn, to grow and to change. COVID-19 is a once-in-a-century health crisis. But it also gives us a once-in-a-century opportunity to shape the world our children will inherit – the word we want,” the WHO Director General observed. (eom)

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