‘Test, test, test’: Amid COVID-19 pandemic, WHO says countries must urgently increase testing, asserts outbreak can’t be fought blindfolded

The World Health Organization called on all countries on Monday to ramp up their testing programmes as the best way to slow the advance of the coronavirus pandemic. “We have a simple message to all countries — test, test, test,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press conference on Monday.

“All countries should be able to test all suspected cases, they cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded,” he added. “We have seen a rapid escalation in social distancing measures, like closing schools and cancelling sporting events and other gatherings. But we haven’t seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the COVID-19 response.”

He called on all countries for a more comprehensive approach to tackling the disease. More than 5,000 people have died and over a lakh have been infected since the outbreak of the infection in China in December.

“…the most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of COVID-19 transmission. To do that, you must test and isolate. You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.

“Every day, more tests are being produced to meet the global demand. WHO has shipped almost 1.5 million tests to 120 countries. We’re working with companies to increase the availability of tests for those most in need,” he said.

In the United States, the Trump administration has come under fire from critics for what they say has been a slow gearing up of testing for the new virus.

US vice president Mike Pence promised on Sunday that Americans would have access in the days ahead to more than 2,000 laboratories capable of processing tests. With limited testing available, US officials have recorded nearly 3,000 cases and 62 deaths, and large segments of daily activities have been upended across the country.

Even countries with advanced health systems have struggled to cope with the outbreak, Tedros said, adding he was deeply concerned about its effects on low-income countries where people already struggled with malnutrition and other health problems.

The strategy to contain the disease, by finding people with infections andrapidly isolating them, was still the best approach, said the WHO chief. It had shown positive effects in China, South Korea and Singapore, he added.

Calling washing hands an “act of solidarity”, Tedros appealed to people to not hoard essential items like sanitisers and masks. “We also ask people to express their solidarity by refraining from hoarding essential items, including medicines. Hoarding can create shortages of medicines and other essential products, which can exacerbate suffering.”

Meanwhile Tedros said he was cheered by the response from governments coming forward with funding to fight the outbreak. “It’s not just the funding, it is human spirit which we see, that is fighting this virus, that is coming more strongly,” he added.

“I am really encouraged in the last week or so with the solid level of solidarity I see.”

“This is the defining global health crisis of our time The days, weeks and months ahead will be a test of our resolve, a test of our trust in science, and a test of solidarity. Crises like COVID-19 tend to bring out the best and worst in humanity,” he added.

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