Dr Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme chief, said, that routine winter testing of patients with chest ailments in hospitals in China, Singapore and Hong Kong had not indicated widespread COVID-19 transmission.
laboratory health workers conducting COVID19 tests
A senior World Health
Organization expert has said that there were some indications that COVID-19
coronavirus disease transmission outside China might not be the tip of the
“iceberg” that had been feared.
Dr Michael Ryan, the World Health
Organization’s (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme chief, said, that routine
winter testing of patients with chest ailments in hospitals in China, Singapore
and Hong Kong had not indicated widespread COVID-19 transmission.
“In emergency rooms and as part
of normal winter respiratory disease surveillance, they’ve been actively
testing thousands of samples that are not suspect cases of COVID,” he said,
adding that at the moment, experts are just not seeing COVID activity amongst
those samples, an indication that the iceberg may not be that great.
As of 4 pm on Thursday, there were
46,550 infections from COVID-19, the overwhelming majority in China, WHO
reported. Of the 1,369 deaths from the coronavirus to date, all but two have
been in China. Outside China, there have been 447 cases from 24 countries and
two deaths; one in the Philippines and another in Japan.
The biggest cluster outside China
is on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is in quarantine in Yokohama
port, Japan. To date, 218 passengers on board have tested positive for
COVID-19, Dr Ryan said.
Other cruise ships in the South
China Sea continues to be affected by fears that they may be carrying the virus.
Nonetheless, fears that only
a fraction of cases was being detected were “as valid as speculations in the
other direction”, Dr Ryan insisted, before adding that no specific treatments
existed for patients, beyond standard antivirals used for the previous coronavirus
outbreaks, such as during the SARS epidemic in 2003.
Dr Ryan explained Vaccines and
new drugs would take a long time and require a huge investment of hundreds of
millions of dollars, D, before urging the public and private investment to spread
Dr Ryan said that the latest data
showing a jump in infections reflects a change in how cases are being diagnosed
and reported by Chinese authorities.
From now on in Hubei province
only, trained medical professionals are authorized to classify a suspected case
of COVID-19 as a clinically diagnosed case based on chest imaging, rather than
having to have a laboratory confirmation, the WHO official said.
“This allows clinicians to move
and report cases more quickly, not having to wait for lab confirmation, which
means that people get clinical care more quickly, and also allows public health
responses in terms of contact tracing and other important public health
measures to be initiated.”
Confirmation of the latest
infection tally comes after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
welcomed the Cambodian authorities’ decision to allow a cruise ship to dock
there. It had been reportedly denied entry elsewhere because of fears that its
passengers may have contracted the virus.
“People with mild respiratory or
gastrointestinal symptoms are being treated on the Westerdam by cruise doctors
and 20 of those are being tested for COVID19,” the WHO chief tweeted earlier in
the day. He noted that the samples have been transported to laboratories via
helicopter at Sihanoukville Seaport and that all passengers and crew remain on
board in quarantine.
Three cruise ships had either
experienced delayed port clearance or been denied entry to ports. Often, said
the WHO chief, without an evidence-based risk assessment.
“WHO stands ready to provide any
additional support to the Government, especially in building preparedness
capacities for COVID19,” he added, before noting that he was “deeply grateful
to the Government, particularly Prime Minister Hun Sen”, for their gesture.
In an earlier tweet, he also
thanked Germany’s health authorities after Health Minister Jens Spahn called
for more support from fellow European Union members to fight the epidemic. To
date, Germany has reportedly identified 16 cases of COVID-19.
“I fully agree that we need to
work as one to keep the world safe from this virus,” WHO chief tweeted.