A top World Health Organisation expert has defended the agency’s response to the coronavirus amid criticism it waited too long to classify the outbreak a pandemic.
Dr Margaret Harris, from the WHO coronavirus response team, told Today it had treated the virus as an emergency since China reported cases of the pneumonia-like illness in late December, yet did not declare it a pandemic until last week.
“We have been treating this as an emergency right from the beginning. We were notified actually on December 31, we first learnt about it and we immediately activated our emergency response team. By the end of January we declared a public health emergency of international concern.”
The coronavirus has infected more than 190,000 people worldwide and killed more than 7500.
“What happened last week, we described it as a pandemic, which means there was a significant outbreak in more than one part of the globe … that was a symbol to the world to say that now everyone has to take action.”
And Dr Harris, in a terse exchange with host Karl Stefanovic, defended the early advice by WHO to test people, above more drastic measures.
“What we ask people to do is to test, to find everybody who is potentially infected, and find everybody around them who could potentially be infected who has been exposed. If you do that you can slow down the number of cases considerably.”
“If you don’t know where the virus is it is like saying there is a fire somewhere and chucking water on it but you don’t know exactly where it is. You will run out of water quickly,” she said.
“You take all actions, you test, you find out who has it, who around them could be exposed. You isolate all of those people. You isolate the people who have tested positive, you isolate the people who have been exposed. So that it doesn’t pass through the community.”
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