By J Nastranis
NEW YORK (IDN) – The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a potential “second wave” of COVID-19 infections. The warning comes as some European countries have begun to relax lockdown measures following weeks of confinement introduced to halt the spread of the new coronavirus. In an update to strategic advice to Governments, the UN health agency called for greater support for health services.
Without it – and other measures including testing for infection – “the premature lifting of physical distancing measures is likely to lead to an uncontrolled resurgence in COVID‑19 transmission and an amplified second wave of cases”, the WHO said.
Until April 15, Austria, Denmark, Spain and Italy have relaxed some lockdown measures.
WHO said that more should be done to identify those with mild disease symptoms, not just the severe cases. The development follows an appeal for greater solidarity in combating the disease from UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
In a statement supporting the UN health agency on April 15 evening as U.S. President, Donald Trump announced that he was halting funding for WHO pending a review, Mr. Guterres appealed for greater unity, “so that the international community can work together…in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences”.
Infections have yet to peak
Although countries that have experienced very large outbreaks have started to see a “slight deceleration” in the number of infections, the number of infections has not peaked yet, the UN health agency said on April 15.
Nine in 10 cases are in Europe and the United States, World Health Organization data shows, with Spain and Italy seeing cases rates fall after dramatic spikes in the number of people falling sick.
Elsewhere in Europe, the picture is more nuanced, agency spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris told journalists in Geneva:
“Some of the very large outbreaks that we’re seeing in Spain and Italy, we’re starting to see a slight deceleration in places, it’s going to take time, but yes, we’re seeing a slowing. Other countries we’re seeing an increase, like Turkey, like the UK so it’s a very mixed picture. And the overall world outbreak, 90 per cent of cases are coming from the United States and America, so we’re certainly not seeing the peak yet.”
WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, urged countries to only consider relaxing lock-down measures if they were sure that they could monitor any new disease transmission, and that their health workers could cope:
“Make no mistake, despite the spring weather we remain in the midst of a storm; several countries are yet to feel its full impact, while others are experiencing a dip as numbers of new cases of COVID-19 are falling. It is imperative that we do not let down our guard.”
Latest data from the WHO shows nearly two million cases of new coronavirus globally with more than 123,000 deaths.
Europe has around half of all cases and around two in three fatalities, and Dr Kluge noted that the virus had the ability to overwhelm even the strongest health services in rich industrialised countries.
After early “optimistic signs” of falling infection rates in 10 European nations including Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland, the WHO official expressed concern about rising pockets of cases in the UK, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation.
“The next few weeks will be critical for Europe,” he said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 17 April 2020]
Note: This report draws on transcripts of audios by Daniel Johnson of UN News, Geneva, with news briefs.
Photo source: European Commission
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