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Emergency Committee on COVID-19 Says Virus Remains A Public Health Threat

Dr. Michael J. Ryan (Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme) during the opening of the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee for Pneumonia due to the Novel Coronavirus 2019-nCoV 31 July 2020 via World Health Organization

Posted: August 3, 2020 at 9:01 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The Emergency Committee on COVID-19 (Coronavirus, 2019) convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) under the International Health Regulations (IHR), held its fourth meeting last week.

After a discussion on the evidence regarding COVID-19, the Emergency Committee unanimously agreed that the virus remains an international public health threat. The official terminology for such a concern is Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

A list of the advice provided by the Emergency Committee on COVID-19 is as follows:

  1. Continue to distill and rapidly communicate lessons learned and best practices from the COVID-19 pandemic and national intra-action reviews.
  2. Continue to coordinate and mobilize global and regional multilateral organizations, partners and networks for robust political commitment and resourcing of COVID-19 pandemic preparedness and response, including for development of vaccines and therapeutics.
  3. Provide nuanced, pragmatic guidance on criteria for appropriate COVID-19 response activities to reduce the risk of response fatigue in the context of socio-economic pressures.
  4. Continue to support State Parties and partners in conducting active and community-based COVID-19 surveillance, through technical and operational resources, such as guidance, tools, and trainings on case definitions and identification, contact tracing, and death certifications; encourage State Parties to continue reporting relevant data to WHO through platforms such as the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System. 
  5. Accelerate research into remaining SARS-CoV-2 critical unknowns, such as the animal source and potential animal reservoirs, and improve understanding of the epidemiology and severity of COVID-19 (including its long-term health effects; viral dynamics such as modes of transmission, shedding, potential mutations; immunity and correlates of protection; co-infection; as well as risk factors and vulnerabilities) and the effectiveness of public health measures.
  6. Continue to work with partners to counter mis/disinformation and infodemics by developing and disseminating clear, tailored messaging on the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects; encourage and support individuals and communities to follow recommended public health and social measures.
  7. Support diagnostics, safe and effective therapeutics and vaccines’ rapid and transparent development (including in developing countries) and equitable access through the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator; support all countries to implement the necessary clinical trials and to prepare for the rollout of therapeutics and vaccines.
  8. Work with partners to revise WHO’s travel health guidance to reinforce evidence-informed measures consistent with the provisions of the IHR (2005) to avoid unnecessary interference with international travel; proactively and regularly share information on travel measures to support State Parties’ decision-making for resuming international travel.
  9. Support State Parties, particularly vulnerable countries, in strengthening their essential health services and accompanying supply chains as well as preparing for and responding to concurrent outbreaks, such as seasonal influenza.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accepted the advice and agreed COVID-19 remains a PHEIC. “The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come,” Dr Tedros told the Emergency Committee on COVID-19 during a press conference on Friday.

“Many countries that believed they were past the worst are now grappling with new outbreaks. Some that were less affected in the earliest weeks are now seeing escalating numbers of cases and deaths. And some that had large outbreaks have brought them under control,” Dr Tedros continued.

The WHO recommends countries continue to support, “research efforts, including through funding, and to join in efforts to allow equitable allocation of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines by engaging in the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator among other initiatives.” 

According to WHO data released on August 2nd, the United States reported 67,499 new cases of COVID-19 on the first day of the month. Brazil reported 52,383 cases on the same day.

India also reported a high number of cases with 54,735 on the first. In comparison countries like Spain (0), New Zealand (3), Germany (240), Italy (295), Australia (377), United Kingdom (771), and Japan (853) all saw less than 1,000 cases to enter August. 

While numbers relatively low compared to Brazil and the United States, the United Kingdom has seen individuals doubt the helpfulness of masks and social distancing, despite epidemiologists around the world (including those within the WHO) stating otherwise, and providing evidence that shows the measures work.

Italy, Spain, and Japan despite not being completely past the curve enacted measures to combat COVID-19. However, those in the United States have turned COVID-19 into a partisan issue that has led to the virus continue to linger within society.

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