WHO urges aggressive Covid-19 measures as flare-ups spark new closures

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlights Italy, Spain and India’s biggest slum to show it’s possible to stop the virus. (AP pic)

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Friday urged countries grappling with coronavirus to step up control measures, saying it is still possible to rein it in, as some countries clamped fresh restrictions on citizens.

With case numbers more than doubling in the past six weeks worldwide, Uzbekistan returned to lockdown due to a spike in cases while Hong Kong said schools would close from Monday after recording an “exponential growth” of locally transmitted cases.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on countries to adopt an aggressive approach, highlighting Italy, Spain, South Korea and India’s biggest slum to show it was possible to stop the spread of the virus, no matter how bad the outbreak.

The WHO’s comments came as US President Donald Trump was forced to cancel an election rally in New Hampshire due to a storm.

While the president has pushed to hold large gatherings against health advice, epidemiologists have increasingly warned of the dangers posed by the virus in the air within crowded and confined spaces.

Trump lashes China

On a visit to Florida on Friday, Trump lashed out at China over the pandemic.

“(The) relationship with China has been severely damaged. They could have stopped the plague…. They didn’t stop it,” he told reporters.

The pandemic has killed at least 556,140 people worldwide since the outbreak emerged in China last December.

Over 12.3 million cases have been registered in 196 countries and territories, triggering massive economic damage.

In Uzbekistan, citizens were from Friday again facing lockdown restrictions originally imposed in March but lifted gradually over the past two months.

The Central Asian country’s return to confinement followed Australia’s decision to lock down its second-biggest city Melbourne from Thursday.

A police officer manning a checkpoint set up on the outskirts of the former Soviet republic’s capital Tashkent said only drivers with “a good reason” to enter the capital – such as delivering food and other vital supplies – could pass.

Restaurants, gyms, swimming pools and non-food markets have all shut their doors once again until at least Aug 1.

Private transport within cities will be limited to morning and early evening journeys and essential purposes such as travelling to work and purchasing food and medicine.

In Hong Kong, the spike marks a setback for the city, where daily lives were returning to normal with restaurants and bars resuming normal business and cultural attractions reopening.

Despite being right next to mainland China where the outbreak emerged in late 2019, the city had largely managed to quash local transmissions in recent months.

But new infection clusters have started to emerge since Tuesday, including at an elderly care home that reported at least 32 cases and a housing estate that reported 11 cases.

Turn this pandemic around

“Across all walks of life, we are all being tested to the limit,” WHO’s Tedros told a virtual news conference in Geneva.

“From countries where there is exponential growth, to places that are loosening restrictions and now starting to see cases rise.

“Only aggressive action combined with national unity and global solidarity can turn this pandemic around,” he said.

Elsewhere, French officials warned of a rising trend in cases in metropolitan France as the death toll topped 30,000.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted that the decision to allow businesses, including bars and event spaces, to reopen may have been made “too soon”.

The country recorded its highest number of coronavirus infections over a 24-hour period, with nearly 1,500 new cases confirmed.

In Australia, meanwhile, authorities said they would slash the number of returning citizens allowed into the country by half.

From Monday, only 4,000 Australian citizens or permanent residents will be allowed back each day.