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WHO warns against 'complacency' in COVID-19 battle amid protests

By Jean Lotus
WHO warns against 'complacency' in COVID-19 battle amid protests
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries around the world to avoid complacency in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic Monday. Photo screenshot from televised media briefing

June 8 (UPI) -- The head of the World Health Organization warned Monday that governments should guard against complacency in the battle against the spread of COVID-19, especially because of public gatherings and protests worldwide.

"More than six months into this pandemic, this is not the time for any country to take its foot off the pedal," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday in a press briefing from Geneva, Switzerland.

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Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 7 million, Sunday, with more than 400,000 deaths.

Tedros said that although some countries in Europe are seeing progress with the slowing of the disease, the number of cases worldwide is still increasing with more than 100,000 positive cases reported every day for nine of the past 10 days.

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Sunday, more than 136,000 cases were reported, which was the most in a single day so far, Tedros said.

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Ten countries, mostly in the Americas and south Asia have reported 75 percent of new cases, Tedros said.

Cases in South America and Central America are the most concerning to world epidemiologists.

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"Right now the epidemic in Central and South America is the most complex of all of the situations we've faced globally," Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's emergencies program, said Monday.

The number of active cases in the United States reached 1.95 million Monday, with more than 110,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University online COVID-19 tracker.

In Africa, infections of COVID-19 are growing, but most countries are reporting fewer than 1,000 cases, Tedros said.

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As protests around the world have brought large groups of people together, the WHO warned that wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing was vital to keep the virus from spreading.

"We encourage all those protesting around the world to do so safely," Tedros said.

The WHO has released guidelines on medical contact tracing to identify, isolate and quarantine people exposed to the infection, Tedros said.

The agency has encouraged activating an existing network of public health polio contact tracers worldwide to work with COVID-19 responses.

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Tuesday the organization will begin an online consultation on contact tracing, "to share technical and operational experience, including innovations in digital technology," Tedros said.

Digital contact-tracing tools can trace larger numbers of people exposed to the coronavirus in a shorter period of time, and provide a real-time picture of the spread of the virus, he said.

The WHO developed the Go.Data online contact tracing app for healthcare providers to use in Africa's Ebola outbreaks.

Other online GPS and bluetooth apps have been developed to help identify people who may have been exposed to the virus, Tedros said. But these must be used with consideration for personal privacy. Digital tools may omit potential contacts who do not carry digital devices, and cause people to falsely report symptoms, he said.

"We continue to urge active surveillance to ensure the virus does not rebound, especially as mass gatherings of all kinds are starting to resume in some countries," Tedros added.

Although U.S. President Donald Trump announced in May that the United States would break its ties to the WHO, a spokeswoman for the agency said Monday the WHO is still working with COVID-19 researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, as well as a number of universities.

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"That collaboration will continue," said Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO's emerging diseases and zoonosis unit.

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