COVID-19: WHO urges countries not to lift lockdowns yet

People wear protective face masks to guard against spread of the coronavirus disease on Tuesday while visiting a shopping area in Beijing, China. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
People wear protective face masks to guard against spread of the coronavirus disease on Tuesday while visiting a shopping area in Beijing, China. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

March 25 (UPI) -- World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus urged all countries to continue lockdown measures as the global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic surpassed the 20,000 milestone Wednesday.

He said global leaders should undertake several "aggressive measures" to stop the transmission of the virus and cut down on deaths. Primarily, he said, countries should make sure people "stay home and stay safe."


"The last thing any country needs is to open schools and businesses, only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence," Ghebreyesus said.

"By taking the same aggressive actions now, these countries have the chance to prevent community transmission and avoid some of the more severe social and economic costs seen in other countries."

Among his recommendations were for countries to expand, train and deploy healthcare workers; root out every suspected case; ramp up testing; equip facilities for treating cases; create a plan to investigate contacts; and refocus the entire government's efforts on COVID-19.


"These measures are the best way to suppress and stop transmission, so that when restrictions are lifted, the virus doesn't resurge," he said.

Ghebreyesus's comments come as the worldwide death toll reached more than 20,000, according to Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus tracker. There are more than 450,000 confirmed cases, with some 113,000 people having recovered from the illness.

Spain has now recorded more deaths from the coronavirus outbreak than any other nation except for Italy, health officials said earlier Wednesday.

More than 700 new deaths were reported in Spain, bringing the nation's total to more than 3,400. The spike pushed the Spanish toll ahead of the number of dead in China, where nearly 3,300 have died so far. Italy has reported more deaths than any nation, with more than 7,500 so far, according to Johns Hopkins.

In India, more than 1.3 billion have begun a 21-day lockdown to clamp down on the spread of the virus. Modi ordered the lockdown on Tuesday and it took effect at midnight. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said there will be a "total ban" on Indian citizens venturing out from their homes during the period.


In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the defense ministry has declared a state of national emergency ahead of a lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease.

Ardern's message came as New Zealand's health ministry reported 50 new and probable cases, increasing its total to more than 200 ahead of a lockdown scheduled for Wednesday night

"From midnight tonight, we bunker down for four weeks to try and stop the virus in its tracks, to break the chain," Ardern said before New Zealand Parliament. "Make no mistake, this will get worse before it gets better."

Of all infections nationwide, only five have so far been hospitalized and there have been no deaths, but Ardern said the state of emergency was declared to hit "a window of opportunity" to stop the virus before it gets worse and save lives.

Scenes from a pandemic: World copes with COVID-19

A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service, Magen David Adam, wears protective gear while taking swabs to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem on August 26. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

"It's that simple," she said. "In this fight against a virus, we have some things on our side."

The prime minister announced the lockdown on Monday when New Zealand cases surpassed 200 and ordered 4.7 million people to prepare to stay at home and not interact with others for at least a month.


Ardern said the declaration allows the director of Civil Defense Emergency Management to coordinate and use resources made available and gives it power to oversee the supply of food, fuel and other essential supplies; regulate land, water and air traffic; close roads and public places; evacuate premises including public spaces; and prohibit people from any place deemed necessary.

"This declaration helps us limit our exposure, and the exposure of the most vulnerable members of our community, to COVID-19," she added. "In short, it will help save lives."

The police and military will remind New Zealanders to follow the lockdown and can escalate the measure, if required.

"They can arrest if needed," Ardern said.

This is the second time an emergency has been declared in New Zealand, following an earthquake in Christchurch in 2011.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin extended the national movement control order until April 14, the Malay Mail reported.

The order, essentially a shutdown of all non-essential businesses and closing of its borders, began March 18 and was originally to expire March 31, but Muhyiddin extended it by two weeks on Wednesday as Malaysia's number of cases rose.


The prime minister said the extension was called in response to an uptick in cases.

"I know you feel burdened but I don't have a choice," he said. "I have to extend the [order] for your own safety."

Health officials said there are about 1,800 cases in Malaysia and 20 deaths.

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