South Africa: Pandemic Not Over, Warns WHO

A billboard at the top end of Long Street in Cape Town (file photo).
1 September 2020

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that while people are experiencing pandemic fatigue, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over.

"WHO fully supports efforts to re-open economies and societies. We want to see children returning to school and people returning to the workplace - but we want to see it done safely.

"At the same time, no country can just pretend the pandemic is over. The reality is that Coronavirus spreads easily. It can be fatal to people of all ages, and most people remain susceptible," said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, on Monday.

Eight months into the pandemic, countries have started opening up their societies and economies again after months of restrictive stay-at-home orders and other restrictions to combat the spread of Coronavirus.

WHO has warned countries against applying a blanket approach to opening up economic activities without suppressing transmission and saving lives.

"It can be done, and it has been done. But it can only be done if countries are in control of transmission. The more control countries have over the virus, the more they can open up.

"Opening up without having control is a recipe for disaster. It's not a one size fits all, it's not all or nothing," said Ghebreyesus.

WHO urged countries to implement four essential things that all communities and individuals must focus on to take control.

First, prevent amplifying events. COVID-19 spreads very easily among clusters of people.

In many countries, explosive outbreaks have been linked to gatherings of people at stadiums, nightclubs, places of worship and in other crowds.

"Preventing these amplifying events is essential, but there are ways to hold gatherings safely in some places.

"Decisions about how and when to allow gatherings of people must be taken with a risk-based approach in the local context," said Ghebreyesus.

Second, reduce deaths by protecting vulnerable groups, including older people, those with underlying conditions and essential workers.

"Countries that do this well may be able to cope with low levels of transmission as they open up.

"By protecting those who are most at risk, countries can save lives, prevent people from becoming severely ill, and take the pressure off their health systems," said Ghebreyesus.

Third, WHO called on individuals to play their part by taking the measures of staying at least one metre away from others, cleaning hands regularly, practising respiratory etiquette, and wearing a mask.

"Avoid the three Cs: closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings."

Fourth, WHO implored governments to take tailored actions to find, isolate, test and care for cases, and trace and quarantine contacts.

"Widespread stay-at-home orders can be avoided if countries take temporary and geographically-targeted interventions," said Ghebreyesus.

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