World should have ‘listened carefully’ to WHO coronavirus advice back in January, says director-general

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus WHO

As more than three million cases of Covid-19 have been recorded worldwide, more than 210,000 people have died, and both the World Health Organization (WHO) and world leaders face criticism for mishandling the coronavirus, officially Covid-19, pandemic, the WHO director-general claimed: Countries that ignored the WHO’s advice at the end of January have been less successful in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

The WHO D-G Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a virtual press briefing on Monday: On January 30, we declared the highest level of global emergency on Covid-19. During that time, as you may remember, there were only 82 cases outside China, no cases in Latin America or Africa, only 10 cases in Europe, no cases in the rest of the world. So the world should have listened to the WHO then carefully.

He added: The countries, which followed the WHO,’s advice – by extensively testing their populations and implementing contact-tracing technologies – are “in a better position than ours.” But the WHO only operates in an advisory capacity and cannot mandate governments to follow its recommendations.

However, even as the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” on January 30, critics were already arguing that the declaration was too late and did not convey the seriousness of the looming pandemic.

Moreover, WHO assured the public less than two weeks earlier that the virus could not pass from person to person, and even as infections soared in late January and early February, the WHO insisted that travel bans – particularly those affecting China – were “ineffective” and promoted “stigma.”

On the world stage, U.S. President Donald Trump has been one of the loudest critics of the WHO. Trump has accused the organization of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus” and made the decision to withdraw U.S. funds indefinitely.

Trump’s response has been criticized. Though Trump implemented a partial China travel ban on January 31, Trump’s opponents say he repeatedly ignored briefings from the intelligence community about the scale of the outbreak, telling the public even in late February “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.”

Trump has also been slammed for his government’s delay in rolling out the “millions” of tests promised in early March.

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been flayed in the media for his initial dismissal of the threat. The UK lagged behind its European neighbors in shutting down businesses and amenities, while Johnson himself insisted on shaking hands long after leaders around the world advised against the practice.

The British government at one point mulled a “herd immunity” strategy, which would have seen the population exposed en masse to the virus.

Mortality in French ICUs 3-4 times higher than official figures

Citing a new study Le Monde newspaper reports: The number of people dying of the Covid-19 in French intensive care units (ICU) could be between three and four times higher than the figure provided by the French government.

Between 30 and 40 percent of all Covid-19 patients, who are transferred to ICU and are put on ventilators in France, are dying, a new study by the European Research Network on Artificial Ventilation (REVA) suggests. This figure is several times higher than the data revealed by Jerome Salomon, the director general for health, a high-ranking official within the French interior ministry.

In mid-April, Salomon said that the mortality rate in French ICUs is only ten percent. Now, these estimates are disputed by a collaborative clinical research network uniting up to 200 ICUs across France and financed under the health ministry’s own hospital clinical research program (PHRC).

As of Sunday, 4,682 Covid-19 patients were treated in ICUs across France. The study conducted by REVA involved an analysis of 1,000 similar cases of patients who were treated between March 28 and April 25.

Matthieu Schmidt, an intensivist at one of Europe’s largest hospitals – Pitie-Salpetriere University Hospital in Paris – and a REVA coordinator, described the mortality rate as “a huge figure.” The medics are still evaluating some data provided by several centers and the eventual figures could be slightly adjusted. The general trend is unlikely to change and Schmidt described it as “indicative” of the situation in French intensive care.

“We have never seen such death rates,” he told Le Monde, adding that the mortality rate during the 2009 swine flu outbreak stood at 25 percent even “with the most serious cases.”

He added: Covid-19-linked figures might not be a result of the French health system’s shortcomings but rather an indication that the novel coronavirus causes a severe complex pathology, which is not limited to pneumonia alone.

Apart from causing pulmonary organs failure, the disease also causes severe inflammation and affects the vascular system and kidneys, the doctor said.

The French government figures were based on data received from March 16 to April 12, the French media reported. At that time, the Covid-19 death rate in French intensive care units was indeed close to ten percent. Yet, only slightly more than a half of all intensive care patients were put on ventilators then. By the time of the REVA study, this figure had grown to 80 percent.

Tai Pham, a resuscitator at the Bicetre hospital in the southern suburb of the French capital, said the ministry’s data reflects the situation at the very beginning of the epidemic, when the fate of many intensive care patients was still unknown. He also noted that patients suffering from less severe symptoms were admitted to intensive care at that time, contributing to a lower mortality rate.

Professor Djillali Annane, from a hospital located in another Paris suburb, also called the ministry’s data “premature.” Still, even the information provided by REVA could not be considered as a final assessment. The French medics will need a “long-term study” that could take up to a year to conduct, they said.

To date, France has seen more than 125,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. Almost 45,000 have since recovered while over 22,800 people have died nationwide.



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