The World Health Organization today (17 March) called on Member states in South-East Asia Region to urgently scale-up aggressive measures to combat COVID-19, as confirmed cases cross 480, and the disease claims eight lives.
“The situation is evolving rapidly. We need to immediately scale up all efforts to prevent the virus from infecting more people,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.
Eight of the 11 countries of WHO South-East Asia Region have confirmed cases of COVID-19. While Thailand has 177 confirmed cases, Indonesia 134, India 125, Sri Lanka 19, Maldives 13, Bangladesh 5, Nepal and Bhutan one each. These numbers are increasing quickly.*
“More clusters of virus transmission are being confirmed. While this is an indication of an alert and effective surveillance, it also puts the spotlight on the need for more aggressive and whole of society efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19. We clearly need to do more, and urgently,” the Regional Director said.
Looking at the numbers, some countries are clearly heading towards community transmission of COVID-19, the Regional Director said, adding this should best be prevented.
Of critical importance are continued efforts to detect, test, treat, isolate and trace contacts.
Simple public health measures are critical. Practicing hand hygiene, covering your cough and sneeze, and practicing social distancing cannot be emphasized enough, Dr Khetrapal Singh said. “This alone has the potential to substantially reduce transmission.”
However, if community transmission does set in, countries would need to gear their responses to slow down transmission, as well as end outbreaks.
Emergency mechanism would then need to be further scaled up. A network of health facilities and hospitals for triage and surge would need to be activated to avoid overcrowding.
Self-initiated isolation by people with mild diseases would continue to be the most important community intervention to reduce the burden on health system and reduce virus transmission.
Testing of all suspected cases, symptomatic contacts of probable and confirmed cases, would still be needed.
“We need to be geared to respond to the evolving situation with the aim to stop transmission of COVID-19 at the earliest to minimize the impact of the virus that has gripped over 150 countries in a short span of time, causing substantial loss to health of people, societies, countries and economies. Urgent and aggressive measures are the need of the hour. We need to act now,” the Regional Director said.
*As of 20 March, the WHO reports that there are 917 cases of confirmed COVID-19 patients in the South-East Asia region and 31 deaths from the virus. Indonesia has the highest number of cases at 309. with 25 deaths, while Thailand ranks second with 322 cases and 1 death. Sri Lanka has 59 cases, Maldives has 13, Bangladesh has 17 and 1 death, while Nepal and Bhutan has one each.