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Mobile testing centre, Czechia, 13 March 2020. (Getty Images/Stringer)

Why More Coronavirus Testing Is One of The Most Important Actions Right Now, According to WHO

ANNA MEDARIS MILLER, BUSINESS INSIDER
17 MARCH 2020

Over the past week, cases of the novel coronavirus have accelerated in many parts of the world, as have efforts to try to control its spread, including the closing of schools and restaurants and the cancellation or postponement of sporting events.

 

But personal hygiene, social distancing, and travel restrictions, while important, are not enough "to extinguish this epidemic," the WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told reporters on Monday.

"We have not seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation, and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the response," Tedros said. It's "the combination" of approaches that matters.

"As I keep saying, all countries must take a comprehensive approach, but the most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission, and to do that you must test and isolate," Tedros said. "You cannot fight a fire blindfolded, and we cannot stop this pandemic if we don't know who is infected."

"We have a simple message for all countries: Test, test, test, every suspected case," he said. That way, people who've been in close contact with those who test positive can be identified and tested as well.

Tedros said more tests are being produced to meet the demand, noting WHO has shipped almost 1.5 million tests to 120 countries.

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead for WHO Health Emergencies Program, added that countries need to increase the number of labs, availability of test kits, and the number of people who can conduct those tests.

 

The virus isn't only affecting elderly people and those with chronic health conditions

Tedros noted that while the message has been that people who are over 60 are at highest risk, "young people, including children, have died."

Tedros also raised concern for developing countries that may be hit harder by the crisis.

"We have seen epidemics in countries with advanced it health systems, but even they have struggled to cope as the virus moves to low income countries," he said. "We're deeply concerned about the impact it could have among populations with high HIV prevalence or among malnourished children. That's why we're calling on every country and every individual to do everything they can to stop transmission."

Tedros said that crises like these bring out "the best and worst" in people, and discouraged people from hoarding supplies.

"This amazing spirit of human solidarity must become even more infectious than the virus itself," he said.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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