WHO urges whole-government COVID-19 tack as cases climb globally

ICU equipment
ICU equipment

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The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) today said some countries are depending on their health ministry to shoulder the battle against COVID-19 and that a whole-of-government approach is needed, as the novel coronavirus spreads to more countries and fuels hot spots across multiple continents.

New cases piled up again today at a brisk pace in three hard-hit countries—Iran, Italy, and South Korea.

At a WHO telebriefing today, Tedros warned that even high-income countries should expect surprises and the solution is aggressive preparedness. "We are concerned that in some countries the level of political commitment and the actions that demonstrate that commitment do not match the level of the threat we all face," he said. "This is not a drill."

Tedros pushed countries to educate the public, increase testing capacity, get hospitals ready, and ensure that essential supplies are on hand.

He also said the WHO has launched a new social media campaign called "Be ready for COVID-19" that urges people to be safe, smart, and informed.

Iran launches new steps; Palestine reports first cases

Iran's health ministry today reported 591 more cases, raising its overall total in 3,513. Also, 15 more people died from the virus, lifting the country's fatality count to 107.

Government officials extended school and university closures by 2 more weeks and have launched a plan to conduct case-finding by phone, starting in some of the hardest hit areas, including Qom, Gilan, and Isfahan, Reuters reported.

A WHO mission is in Iran this week to assess the outbreak and offer support. Also, a WHO team is also in Bahrain to offer support. As of today, Bahrain has reported 52 cases, according to the latest update from the WHO's Eastern Mediterranean regional office.

In other Middle East developments, Palestine reported its first cases. The country's health ministry today said 7 cases, all involving Palestinians, have been confirmed in Bethlehem, Anadolu Agency news reported. A hotel in the city had been quarantined due to suspected cases, and schools and training institutions have been closed in Bethlehem governate for 2 weeks. A state of emergency has been called for Bethlehem and Jericho.

WHO sees hopeful signs in Korea as Asian cases rise

South Korea—the country with the highest total outside of China—today reported 438 new cases, plus 3 more deaths, raising those respective totals to 5,766 and 35.

At today's media telebriefing, Tedros said trends in South Korea are encouraging, with signs that virus activity may be decreasing and most new cases linked to known clusters.

China today reported 143 new cases, edging its overall total to 80,409, according to the National Health Commission. All but 5 were from Hubei province. The number of people still in serious condition declined by 464 to 5,952. And 31 deaths were reported, all from Hubei province, bumping the fatality total above the 3,000 mark to 3,012.

Tedros said today that of 31 China provinces that were at their highest alert level, 20 have downgraded the risk level, and today alone, 11 moved their level to the lowest level. "There's hope in that," he added.

In Japan, the health ministry today reported 26 more cases and 5 more asymptomatic carriers, raising its total to 313. It lists its overall total as 348, which includes 35 asymptomatic carriers. The latest cases are from 12 different prefectures.

Elsewhere in Asia, Malaysia reported 5 new cases in the wake of its biggest 1-day rise, according to a Straits Times report. All 5 of the new cases are linked to an earlier case. The country's outbreak total is now 55. And Singapore's health ministry also reported 5 new cases, 1 imported and 4 linked to a private dinner party, raising the country's total to 117.

Italian doctors warn of high ICU burden

Italy's health ministry today reported 769 new cases and 41 more deaths, lifting its respective totals to 3,858 cases, 148 of them fatal. Though cases have been reported throughout the country, 3,356 are from three hard-hit northern regions: Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, and Veneto.

In a letter to the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine, a group of Italian doctors from Milan sent a letter to the group, warning others that a high percentage of positive cases are being admitted to intensive care units (ICUs), about 10% of patients. "We wish to convey a strong message. Get ready!" they wrote.

They listed several recommendations, including having a personal protective equipment stocking and restocking protocol in place, increasing ICU capacity, and preparing spaces for cohorting ICU patients, if needed.

In other European developments, two countries reported their first deaths from the virus today: Switzerland and the United Kingdom.Also, two more European countries reported their first cases: Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia.

According to media reports, Bosnia's cases are a man from Italy and his child, while Slovenia has two cases, one announced yesterday in a person who had been in Italy and Morocco and a contact whose illness was announced today.

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