World

Coronavirus pandemic far from over in Asia: WHO official

BEIJING: The coronavirus epidemic is "far from over" in the Asia-Pacific region. The current measures to curb the spread of the virus are buying time for countries to prepare for large-scale community transmissions, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official said yesterday.

Even with all the measures, the risk of transmission in the region will not go away as long as the pandemic continues, said Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO's Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

This coronavirus surfaced in central China late last year.

Infections have now exceeded 770,000 cases worldwide, with the US, Italy and Spain overtaking mainland China in confirmed cases.

LONG-TERM BATTLE

"Let me be clear. The epidemic is far from over in Asia and the Pacific. This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard," Dr Kasai told a virtual media briefing.

"We need every country to keep preparing for large-scale community transmission."

Dr Kasai warned that countries that are seeing a tapering off of cases should not let down their guard, as the virus may come surging back.

The WHO does not expect any country to be safe, as the coronavirus will eventually get everywhere, said WHO technical adviser Matthew Griffith.

"Whereas countries and areas in this region have shown how to flatten the curve, outbreaks continue to pop up in new places and importation remains a concern," Dr Griffith said at the briefing, citing cases in Singapore and South Korea from people who travelled abroad.

And countries which spray disinfectant all over the place will not stem the tide, say health experts.

Mass disinfections have become a common sight - from Turkey's Grand Bazaar to bridges in Mexico and migrant workers in India.

But the measures have been criticised by disease specialists as a health hazard as well as a waste of time and resources.

"It's a ridiculous image seen in many countries," said infectious diseases expert Dale Fisher in Singapore who chairs the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network coordinated by the World Health Organisation.

"I don't believe it adds anything to the response and could be toxic on people. The virus does not survive for long in the environment and people do not generally touch the ground." - REUTERS

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