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Pandemic has moved into a new phase in Western Pacific: WHO

Senior official says Asia-Pacific countries increasingly able to minimise large-scale disruptions to people's lives and economies

The recent surge in cases in countries that had managed to contain the Covid-19 pandemic in its early months actually marks their move to a new phase for which they are better prepared, said a senior World Health Organisation (WHO) official.

Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, said at a virtual press conference yesterday: "What we are observing is not simply a resurgence. We believe it's a signal that we've entered a new phase of the pandemic in the Asia-Pacific.

"In this phase countries are increasingly able to minimise large-scale disruptions to people's lives and economies."

Countries such as Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Australia had moved quickly to contain Covid-19 in the early months of the pandemic, but are now fighting new surges.

In some cases, the second wave is larger than the initial outbreaks, said Dr Kasai.

The surge in cases is due to countries having relaxed their earlier stringent measures as they move towards reopening their economies.

He said these countries "will need to deal with multiple increases or surges, but in a sustainable way".

They need to have an "earlier targeted response" to prevent "big disruptions to the economy and people's life".

They should continue to improve their healthcare system and protect the vulnerable.

And people in these countries need to "maintain their healthy behaviour, not just protecting themselves, but also their family, communities", while businesses have to find ways to operate as they minimise the risk of the virus spreading.

EARLY DETECTION

Dr Kasai said: "By combining early detection and rapid response to emerging infections, and people sticking to the prevention measures that are part of the new normal, many (countries) are now detecting outbreaks earlier and responding to them faster, with more targeted intervention."

This agile approach will help them to restore their health systems, societies and economies.

The WHO's Western Pacific region includes China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Pacific island states, among others.

Asked about moves by some countries to restart international travel, Dr Kasai said they should adopt "a risk-based approach".

They need to look at where people are travelling to and from, and the status of the outbreak in those countries.

Other considerations include the kind of people who are coming into the country, and the controls or intervention that can be put in place.

Dr Kasai said: "This requires continuous information sharing and assessment, and dialogue between the countries."

Meanwhile, countries planning to open up "need to continue to improve their surveillance system, and share that information".

On the effect of mutation of the coronavirus, Dr Kasai said that based on the thousands of gene sequences available, this is a relatively stable virus, and work on a vaccine will not be affected.

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