Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ph.D
World Health Organization Opening Statement on COVID-19
delivered 13 July 2020, Geneva, Switzerland
Yesterday, 230,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported to WHO. Almost 80% of those cases were reported from just 10 countries, and 50% come from just two countries. Although the number of daily deaths remains relatively stable, there is a lot to be concerned about.
All countries are at risk of the virus, as you know, but not all countries have been affected in the same way. There are roughly four situations playing out across the world at the moment.
The first situation is countries that were alert
and aware -- they prepared and responded rapidly and effectively to the first
cases. As a result, they have so far avoided large outbreaks. Several countries
in the Mekong region, the Pacific, the Caribbean and Africa fit into that
category. Leaders of those countries took command of the emergency and
communicated effectively with their populations about the measures that had to
be taken. They pursued a comprehensive strategy to find, isolate, test and care
for cases, and to trace and quarantine contacts, and were able to suppress the
The fourth situation is those countries that are
in the intense transmission phase of their outbreak. We’re seeing this across
the Americas, South Asia, and several countries in Africa. The epicentre of the
virus remains in the Americas, where more than 50% of the world’s cases have
Let me blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction. The virus remains public enemy number one, but the actions of many governments and people do not reflect this. The only aim of the virus is to find people to infect.
Mixed messages from leaders are undermining the
most critical ingredient of any response: trust. If governments do not clearly
communicate with their citizens and roll out a comprehensive strategy focused on
suppressing transmission and saving lives; if populations do not follow the
basic public health principles of physical distancing, hand washing, wearing
masks, coughing etiquette and staying at home when sick; if the basics aren’t
followed, there is only one way this pandemic is going to go: It’s going to get
worse and worse and worse.
We all hope there will be an effective vaccine,
but we need to focus on using the tools we have now to suppress transmission and
First, a focus on reducing mortality and suppressing transmission.
Second, an empowered, engaged community that takes individual behavior measures in the interest of each other.
And third, we need strong government leadership and coordination of comprehensive strategies that are communicated clearly and consistently.
It can be done. It must be done. I have said it before and I will keep saying it. No matter where a country is in its epidemic curve, it is never too late to take decisive action. Implement the basics and work with community leaders and all stakeholders to deliver clear public health messages.
We weren’t prepared collectively, but we must use all the tools we have to bring this pandemic under control. And we need to do it right now.
Together, we must accelerate the science as quickly as possible, find joint solutions to COVID-19 and through solidarity build a cohesive global response.
Science, solutions and solidarity.
I thank you.