GENEVA — Lacking health measures and political unity have allowed COVID-19 to spiral to 10 million cases and half a million deaths, United Nations health chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday, warning that he feared for the worst in the current environment.
“We all want this to be over, we all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is: This is not even close to being over,” the World Health Organization (WHO) chief told a press conference from Geneva.
The current level of the accelerating pandemic did not come by accident, he said, marking six months since the WHO learned about the original outbreak in Wuhan, China.
“This could have been prevented through the tools we have at hand,” Tedros said, urging countries to test, track down social contacts, isolate and quarantine.
In addition, lack of unity within countries and lack of solidarity between nations also allowed the virus to spread, he charged.
Unless this political problem is addressed, “the worst is yet to come,” Tedros said. “I’m sorry to say that, but in this kind of environment and condition we fear the worst.
“That’s why we have to bring our acts together and fight this dangerous virus together,” he said.
Countries like South Korea had proven that it is possible to bring down infection numbers with tough health measures by the government and a strong sense of responsibility among the public, Tedros added.
“Time after time and country after country, what we have seen is that this virus can be suppressed if governments are serious about what they have to do, and if communities do their share.”
The argument that contact tracing is too difficult in countries with high infection numbers, he criticized, pointing out that health workers in Congo have managed to do such work and stop an Ebola outbreak in an active war zone.
The WHO first noticed a cluster of viral pneumonia in Wuhan on December 31, but the virus that likely started spreading earlier.
The U.N. agency will send a team to China next week to further investigate the origin of the virus, Tedros announced.
“We can fight the virus better when we know everything about the virus, including how it started,” he said.