World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the pandemic is “far from over” and said “the world should have listened” to the agency three months ago when it declared the novel coronavirus a global health emergency.
After the new virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December and began to spread overseas, Tedros said the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak “the highest level of global emergency” on Jan. 30.
“During that time, as you may remember, there were only 82 cases outside China. No cases in Latin America, actually. No cases in Africa. Only 10 cases in Europe. No deaths in the rest of the world, nothing,” Tedros said. “And every country could have triggered all its public health measures possible.”
“The world should have listened to WHO then, carefully,” he added.
The declaration officially called a “public health emergency of international concern” — cannot force countries to take action, rather it’s merely guidance. The role of the WHO, the health arm of the United Nations, is only to offer advice “based on science and evidence,” and it’s up to governments “whether to take it or not,” Tedros said.
“We advised the whole world to implement a comprehensive public health approach, and we said, find, test, isolate and do contract tracing,” he continued. “We don’t have any mandate to force countries to implement what we advise them.”
Tedros said the countries who followed the agency’s advice “are in a better position than others.”
“This is fact,” he added. “At the end of the day, each country takes its own responsibility.”