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Illustration by Security Management

WHO Calls for Global Push to Stop Coronavirus Spread

The World Health Organization (WHO) is asking for leaders to use their full government powers to stop the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, which has neared more than 100,000 cases around the globe.

“This epidemic can be pushed back, but only with a collective, coordinated, and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of government,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, in a media statement. “We are calling on every country to act with speed, scale, and clear-minded determination. Although we continue to see the majority of cases in a handful of countries, we are deeply concerned about the increasing number of countries reporting cases, especially those with weaker health systems.”

Ghebreyesus said that combatting the coronavirus will require “aggressive preparedness,” adding that the WHO was concerned that some nations have not taken the threat “seriously enough.”

“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 explained. “This is not a drill. This is not the time to give up. This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops.”

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have made resources available to nations who need it to stabilize health systems and mitigate economic consequences of the epidemic, Ghebreyesus said.

“These funds are essential for supporting the response now, but also for long-term preparedness,” Ghebreyesus said. “Although COVID-19 presents an acute threat now, it is absolutely essential that countries do not lose this opportunity to strengthen their preparedness systems.”

Enhancing response and preparedness is critical across the board, according to Security Management’s analysis of the Global Health Security Index, which found that most nations were unprepared in 2019 to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats. Many nations are beginning to take those actions now in response to the coronavirus outbreak that began in China and has spread across the globe.

The European Commission is working to support EU member states through a Coronavirus Response Team to stop the spread of the coronavirus. As of today—6 March 2020—there were 5,544 reported cases in the European Union and the United Kingdom. Most of these cases were in Italy, which reported 3,858 cases and 158 deaths. Italy has taken the step of closing all schools and universities until March 15 to prevent the virus from spreading further.

“The Italian education ministry has launched a website with information about how to deal with a possible coronavirus outbreak in schools,” CNN reports. “It also launched an information portal focused on remote learning and said 2,000 teachers participated in webinars on distance learning on Tuesday, the first day of the program.”

The outbreak in Europe is also causing companies to restrict employee travel to the continent. Earlier this week, Amazon told employees to limit any non-essential travel within the United States or around the globe. Other companies, like Twitter, Microsoft, and Google, are instructing some employees to plan to work from home to limit exposure.

These decisions are having a major impact on events and conferences, many of which are cancelling, moving to an online format, or postponing till a later date.

ASIS International joined those in making the choice to postpone a major European event, ASIS Europe 2020 originally scheduled for 1-3 April in Prague.

The association issued a statement on Friday, explaining that it was postponing ASIS Europe 2020 due to coronavirus concerns.

“We are proactively communicating with event registrants to make sure that their needs are met through this unfortunate but necessary process,” the association said. “We will continue to assess all upcoming events. This is a situation that changes day to day, sometimes hour to hour. We will strive to keep you informed of future developments.”

ASIS International is headquartered in the United States, which is also taking steps to increase its ability to respond to the outbreak after a faulty start. On Thursday night, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an $8.3 billion spending bill to address the emergency but also canceled a trip to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—the lead health organization in the United States responding to the outbreak.

Much of the concern in the United States has centered around the availability of accurate testing for the disease. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is the administration official in charge of coordinating U.S. response, previously said any American could be tested for the virus. The New York Times later reported that Pence confirmed “we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”

The U.S. healthcare system is also facing pressure to protect patients and staff as the virus spreads. National Nurses United recently surveyed a portion of its 150,000 members across America about preparedness for the coronavirus.

“Of the 6,500 nurses who participated, 29 percent said their hospitals had a plan to isolate potential coronavirus patients, and 44 percent said they had received guidance from their employers about how to handle the virus,” according to the Times. Nurses also said they had to make special demands for N95 face masks and had faced “ridicule” from colleagues when expressing concerns about catching the virus.

Healthcare workers are at high risk during disease outbreaks. During the early stages of the 2003 SARS outbreak, “5 percent of doctors, 4 percent of nurses, and 8 percent of healthcare assistants had contracted the disease,” according to HealthAffairs, published by Project HOPE—a global health and humanitarian relief organization.

“Medical personnel on the frontlines of the current COVID-19 outbreak are similarly at high risk for disease transmission,” HealthAffairs reports. “Though the Chinese government has not released an official report of the impact on the health workforce, posts on Chinese social media have suggested that at least 1,100 medical workers have contracted COVID-19.”


More resources and news about the COVID-19 epidemic are available on the ASIS International Disease Outbreak Security Resource Page.