WHO: Pandemic far from over in Asia

©PhilSTAR Daily, Inc

MANILA, Philippines — The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region is far from over and countries must brace for large-scale community transmission of the respiratory disease, officials of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Manila said yesterday.

In a virtual conference, WHO director for Western Pacific Takesi Kasai noted the region “has not yet seen large-scale community transmission” of COVID-19.

“The pandemic is far from over in Asia and the Pacific. This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard. We need every country to keep responding, according to their local situation and, at the same time, we need every country to keep preparing for large-scale community transmission,” he added.

Kasai disclosed that yesterday marked three months since the WHO was alerted to “a cluster of pneumonia of unknown causes” in Wuhan City in Hubei province of China. This signaled the outbreaks later named COVID-19.

Since then, he said “the world that we know changed swiftly and dramatically, affecting millions of people’s lives.”

According to Kasai, since Western Pacific was hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003, the region has been “preparing for an event like this ever since.”

He admitted, however, that COVID-19 is a “pandemic unlike any the world has ever seen and it has changed our system and put a strain on people’s lives in an unprecedented way.”

But Kasai said the measures being implemented in every country, such as physical distancing, finding and testing cases for isolation, can only “buy us valuable time to prepare for large scale community transmission.”

“We need to be clear that even with all these measures, the risk will not go away as long as the pandemic continues… We have to find a way to make our societies get running again,” he added.

He underscored that preparing for large scale community transmission “must reach every corner of every community of every country to make sure that nobody is left behind.”

“For this, we need all local authorities and communities to be fully engaged,” he maintained.

As of Tuesday, WHO data show a total of 693,224 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the Western Pacific accounting for 103,775.

Luzon lockdown

Asked for his opinion if the enhanced community lockdown being implemented in Luzon should be extended beyond April 14, Kasai said that “lockdown is a measure that has a significant impact to the economy and society and functions of social life.”

“(It is a) means that require careful consideration when we decide to implement. I, myself, am in the middle of lockdown in Manila and I’m very impressed by Filipinos’ solidarity in trying to cope and support this lockdown,” he said.

But to make it effective, he said the government has to ensure “basic lifelines are maintained.”

“If you don’t have those structures, it’s very difficult to make those measures. (For) lockdown to be effective, continue to find and isolate case, treat early, trace and quarantine those contacts. Obviously this measure can’t continue forever,” he added.

Kasai said when the measure is lifted, “we have to make careful consideration of the epidemiological situation and impact of those locked down.”

“We may have to peel one by one, not just immediately lift those public health measures to balance and control diseases and to bring back society back to normal,” he added.

Phl, 52 countries support call for ceasefire

The Philippines joined 52 countries in responding to the appeal issued by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urging warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

A statement was issued on March 30 in behalf of the 53 countries in their national capacity and as members of the Group of Friends of Women, Peace and Security, the Group of Friends of Children and Armed Conflict and/or the Group of Friends of the Protection of Children.

The UN chief said COVID-19 is the common enemy now threatening all of humankind and the world should focus on the “true fight of our lives.”

“We welcome and we fully support the United Nations Secretary-General’s call for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic. We echo the Secretary-General that it is ‘time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,’” said the statement of the 53 countries posted by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on its official Twitter account.

As the pandemic spreads, the 53 countries expressed concern over the plight of women, children and all civilians caught in armed conflicts and other humanitarian crises, including the displaced and marginalized, older persons, persons with disabilities and the wounded, sick and detainees. These populations are already impacted disproportionately by armed conflict.

“An immediate global ceasefire would markedly reduce these impacts, allow for much-needed humanitarian assistance and protection and hopefully diminish the spread of COVID-19,” the statement said.

The countries fully support the efforts of the United Nations, including the WHO, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF and other specialized agencies, funds and programs in responding to COVID-19, noting that their efforts are helping to ensure vulnerable civilians living in conflict-affected countries are protected.

“We extend our thanks and support to the humanitarian and healthcare workers on the frontlines of the response,” the statement said.

“We stand together with all those affected by COVID-19, including civilians and vulnerable populations caught in armed conflicts and humanitarian crises around the world,” it said.

The Secretary-General said the ceasefire would allow humanitarians to reach populations that are most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-10, which first emerged in Wuhan, China last December, and has now been reported in more than 180 countries.

As the UN chief pointed out, COVID-19 does not care about nationality or ethnicity or other differences between people and “attacks all, relentlessly,” including during wartime.

It is the most vulnerable – women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized, displaced and refugees – who pay the highest price during conflict and are most at risk of suffering “devastating losses” from the disease.

Health systems in war-ravaged countries have often reached the point of total collapse, while the few health workers who remain are also seen as targets.

The UN chief called on warring parties to pull back from hostilities, put aside mistrust and animosity and “silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the airstrikes.”