News WHO chief plays down coronavirus ‘silver bullet’ hopes

WHO chief plays down coronavirus ‘silver bullet’ hopes

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says we should wear masks, wash hands and social distance. Photo: AAP
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The World Health Organisation has warned that despite strong hopes for a vaccine, there might never be a “silver bullet” for COVID-19, and the road to normality will be long.

More than 18.14 million people around the world are reported to have been infected with the disease and 688,080 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO emergencies head Mike Ryan exhorted all nations to rigorously enforce health measures such as wearing masks, social distancing, hand washing and testing.

“The message to people and governments is clear: Do it all,’’ Dr Tedros told a virtual news briefing from the UN body’s headquarters in Geneva on Monday.

He said face masks should become a symbol of solidarity around the world.

“A number of vaccines are now in phase-three clinical trials and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection,” Dr Tedros said.

“However, there’s no silver bullet at the moment – and there might never be.”

Dr Ryan said countries with high transmission rates, including Brazil and India, needed to brace for a big battle: ‘‘The way out is long and requires a sustained commitment.’’

Meanwhile, Dr Ryan said the Chinese city of Wuhan may not be the origin of the coronavirus, as the WHO announced extensive studies to track down the animal species that transmitted the virus to humans.

“The fact that that fire alarm was triggered doesn’t necessarily mean that that is where the disease crossed from animals into humans,” the WHO emergency operations chief said.

An international team will trace the chain of infections from the first COVID-19 cases that appeared in Wuhan, after the outbreak was detected by the city’s pneumonia surveillance system.

Chinese researchers have conducted studies around initial cases and around the Wuhan seafood market to find the source animal, but “there are gaps in the epidemiological landscape,” Dr Ryan said.

“What is required is going to be a much more extensive retrospective epidemiological study” to look at the links between the first human cases, he added.

Dr Tedros also urged mothers to continue breastfeeding even if they had COVID-19, as the benefits “substantially” outweighed the risks of infection.