In view of some Asian countries slowing down the spread of the coronavirus, officially Covid-19, pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) experts have warned: No country should let its guard down.

“Let me be clear. The epidemic is far from over in Asia and the Pacific,” said Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

Takeshi Kasai was talking to reporters on Tuesday.

The WHO expert said: This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard. We need every country to keep preparing for large-scale community transmission.

While positive news is coming from China and South Korea, whose response seems to have slowed down the spread of the virus, WHO technical adviser Matthew Griffith explained that this should not be interpreted as Covid-19 leaving particular areas.

He said: “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.”

WHO chief calls for equitable distribution and free movement of essential health products

In his media briefing on COVID-19 on March 30, the WHO chief said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic is straining health systems in many countries.

“The rapidly increasing demand on health facilities and health workers threatens to leave some health systems overstretched and unable to operate effectively.

“Previous outbreaks have demonstrated that when health systems are overwhelmed, deaths due to vaccine-preventable and treatable conditions increase dramatically.

“Even though we’re in the midst of a crisis, essential health services must continue. Babies are still being born, vaccines must still be delivered, and people still need life-saving treatment for a range of other diseases.”

He reminded:

“WHO has published guidelines to help countries balance the demands of responding directly to COVID-19, while maintaining essential health services.

“This includes a set of targeted, immediate actions to reorganize and maintain access to high-quality essential health services, including routine vaccination; care during pregnancy and childbirth; treatment for infectious and noncommunicable diseases and mental health conditions; blood services, and more.

“That includes ensuring an adequate health workforce to deal with the many health needs other than COVID-19.”

He said:

“We’re pleased by the 20 000 health workers in the UK who have offered to return to work, and that other countries such as the Russian Federation are involving medical students and trainees in the response.”

The WHO chief said:

“To help countries manage the surge in COVID-19 cases while maintaining essential services, WHO has also published a detailed, practical manual on how to set up and manage treatment centers for COVID-19.

“The manual covers three major interventions:

“First, how to set up screening and triage at health facilities, using a repurposed building or a tent.

“Second, how to set up community facilities to care for mild patients;

“And third, how to set up a treatment centre, by repurposing hospital wards or entire hospitals, or by setting up a new hospital in a tent.

“The manual covers structural design, infection prevention and control measures, and ventilation systems.

“This is a life-saving instruction manual to deal with the surge of cases that some countries are facing right now.

“These facilities will also have longer-term benefits for health systems once the current crisis is over.

“In addition to having facilities for patients, it’s also vital that countries have sufficient supplies of diagnostics, protective equipment and other medical supplies.”

He said:

“Ensuring free movement of essential health products is vital for saving lives and curbing the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

“Earlier today I spoke to trade ministers from the G20 countries about ways to address the chronic shortage of personal protective equipment and other essential medical supplies.

“We call on countries to work with companies to increase production; to ensure the free movement of essential health products; and to ensure equitable distribution of those products, based on need.”

He said:

“Specific attention should be given to low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

He informed that WHO is working intensively with several partners to massively increase access to life-saving products, including diagnostics, PPE, medical oxygen, ventilators and more.

He said:

“We understand that many countries are implementing measures that restrict the movement of people.

“In implementing these measures, it’s vital to respect the dignity and welfare of all people.

“It’s also important that governments keep their people informed about the intended duration of measures, and to provide support for older people, refugees, and other vulnerable groups.

“Governments need to ensure the welfare of people who have lost their income and are in desperate need of food, sanitation and other essential services.”

The chief world health official reminded:

“Countries should work hand-in-hand with communities to build trust and support resilience and mental health.”

China finds no new case in Hubei

Chinese health officials reported on Tuesday that there were no new confirmed Covid-19 cases recorded in the Hubei Province – where the outbreak initially started – for the seventh day in a row. All new 48 cases reported on Tuesday were linked to people arriving from abroad.

Chinese authorities said that although the domestic transmission of the disease has been largely stopped, the growing number of imported cases risks triggering a secondary wave of the infection.

India and Pakistan convert trains into mobile Covid-19 hospitals

Pakistan’s national railway has converted all of its business class coaches into rolling quarantine wards for Covid-19 patients, adding thousands of beds to the fight against the virus, a move mirroring a similar project in India.

The mobile isolation units are ready to ship out to any part of the country connected by rail lines, offering much needed relief to local authorities in Pakistan’s hardest-hit regions, Railways Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmad announced on Monday at the Rawalpindi train station in Punjab, a major stop on the Karachi–Peshawar line.

According to the newspaper Dawn, some 220 coaches have been specially equipped to house and treat patients, each containing nine beds. Train stations in all seven divisions administered by Pakistan Railways – in Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, Sukkur, Rawalpindi and Multan – have also been fitted with 100 beds and a ventilator each, further taking pressure off local healthcare systems.

Pakistan has suspended all passenger rail services amid the Covid-19 outbreak, allowing only freight cars to deliver vital food and supply shipments around the country. While Ahmad said he hoped passenger lines could reopen sometime in April, he noted they would remain shuttered until authorities could get a handle on the outbreak.

According to Johns Hopkins University, Pakistan has some 1,700 cases while the number of deaths is 21.

India, too, has signaled plans to convert rail cars into moving isolation wards, with the state-owned Indian Railways presenting a prototype for the project over the weekend.

Once cleared by authorities, the train operator hopes to convert 10 coaches into quarantine units each week to serve its 16 zones, which make up the world’s fourth largest rail network. Despite boasting a population of over 1.3 billion, India has confirmed only around 1,250 cases of the virus to date, with 32 deaths.


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