Statement to the Russian-language media by Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe
03 June 2020, Copenhagen, Denmark
Good morning, good afternoon, and thank you for joining us today.
Let me start with a brief overview of the current COVID-19 situation across the WHO European Region.
To date, there have been over 2.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Region. Tragically, over 181,000 people have lost their lives.
Although weekly cases have almost halved since April, the risk remains very high.
In some countries we see a steady stabilization or decline in new cases. Russian Federation and Ukraine are heading towards this trajectory.
A number of countries are reporting a slight increase in new cases after and during the adjustment of some public health measures. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Israel are taking swift actions tailored to their context.
Some countries have changed their testing strategies over the course of the past few weeks and are capturing more cases in their surveillance system – for example, as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
We continue supporting countries with clinical management, laboratory, epidemiology, surveillance and analytics, logistics and supplies. And I thank our partners in the Russian Federation, Germany, United Kingdom, Poland who have been joining our operations through provision of Emergency Medical Teams, Mobile Labs and other experts.
Now, let me focus briefly on a few other key issues.
Over the past few months I have been communicating with journalists from all over our European Region – it is always a pleasure for me to do this because, through journalists, we at WHO can better understand what general public wants to know, their concerns and hopes.
There are issues that crop up time after time when I talk to media.
Many of you are asking me to assess this or that country’s performance during the pandemic.
Let me be clear: WHO’s role is not to offer any assessment on how particular countries have responded to the challenge.
What I can say for sure is that all WHO European Member States have been making serious efforts to use scientific evidence and professional guidance to address the very real challenges of this situation.
Journalists also ask me about ending lockdowns – how safe will it be and what will it look like?
And of course, linked to ending the lockdown is the question of a second wave of the virus: Is it really inevitable? Should Europe expect it, if yes when?
Transitioning towards what we call ‘a new normal’ must be guided by public health principles, together with economic and societal considerations.
Decision-makers on all levels must follow the guiding principle: transition gradually and do it carefully.
A second wave is not inevitable – yet, as more and more countries relax restrictions there is a clear threat that Covid-19 infections may surge. If those surges are not properly managed, then a second wave could happen and could be extremely destructive. Remember, that we are no better off today than we were at the beginning of the year, we still do not have a vaccine nor treatment for COVID-19.
The good news is that we have learned a lot from the first wave. So, should another surge occur, we will be better prepared in terms of our understanding of the virus, what interventions work best and how we have to be ready for it by collaborating and adopting a whole of society approach.
What we are seeing in Asia, which was hit first, is a resurgence of cases whenever attention is lowered or controls eased.
That’s why real-time monitoring of the epidemic is crucial to react fast. When we put proven measures in place – ensuring that we:
- identify, isolate and test all suspect cases
- quarantine and monitor the health of all contacts
- provide prompt care to those who need it; and
- are prepared to reimpose some restrictions if necessary
This virus will stay with us for a long time, at least until a safe vaccine or effective treatments become available.
As to the question of when will the vaccine will be available? Now we don’t have a timeline for developing a vaccine. There is an unprecedented effort underway to fast track the development of a vaccine, involving the most eminent scientists and the most respected research and pharmacology institutions all over the world.
While we await the development of potential vaccines, it is important that we work in parallel to develop therapeutic solutions.
Leaving no one behind is a priority for WHO in everything we do. Once that vaccine is or vaccines are available, WHO will do everything we can to ensure that any vaccines that become available are distributed in an equitable way.
A Working Group on COVID-19 Vaccines and Vaccination is being set up as part of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization to provide guidance to ensure equitable access to vaccination, among other objectives.
WHO also supports the creation of a global pool for rights on data, knowledge, technologies to make more affordable and accessible any new techniques, new technologies, new vaccines, and new treatments so that the world can respond as one to defeat COVID-19.
So, we must, all of us, be vigilant and behave responsibly, for all our sakes.
I urge all countries to take full account of their individual epidemiologic situations, monitor this continuously, and only gradually adjust measures.
As always, WHO remains on hand to support you.
Through solidarity, perseverance and patience, we will defeat this virus together.