The WHO boss warned that some countries easing their way out of lockdowns were now witnessing a resurgence of the virus because they were not following proven methods to reduce risks
GENEVA: The World Health Organization (WHO) Monday warned that too many countries were bungling their response to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning there could be no return to normality any time soon.
After a daily record of 230,000 new COVID-19 cases reported on Sunday, the UN health agency said the pandemic was only going to get worse unless people stuck to the basics of physical distancing, handwashing, wearing masks and staying home if sick.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that some countries easing their way out of lockdowns were now witnessing a resurgence of the virus because they were not following proven methods to reduce risks.
"I want to be straight with you: there will be no return to the ‘old normal’ for the foreseeable future," Tedros told a virtual news briefing. "Let me be blunt: too many countries are headed in the wrong direction.
"The virus remains public enemy number one, but the actions of many governments and people do not reflect this." He said mixed messages from leaders were undermining trust. If governments do not roll out a comprehensive strategy to suppress transmission of the virus, and if the public do not follow the basics, "there is only one way this pandemic is going to go," Tedros said.
"It’s going to get worse and worse and worse." The novel coronavirus has killed nearly 570,000 people and infected more than 12.9 million since the outbreak emerged in Wuhan in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
Tedros said four scenarios were now playing out around the world. They are countries that were alert and avoided large outbreaks, those that got a major outbreak under control, those that eased restrictions but are now backsliding, and those in an intense transmission phase.
Tedros said the heart of the crisis remains the Americas -- accounting for more than half of infections -- but stressed it was never too late to bring "explosive transmission" under control.
Meanwhile, a United Nations report published Monday said nearly one in nine people in the world were going hungry, with the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating already worsening trends this year.
Economic slowdowns and climate-related shocks are pushing more people into hunger, while nutritious foods remain too expensive for many, contributing not only to undernourishment, but also to growing rates of obesity in adults and children.
"After decades of long decline, the number of people suffering from hunger has been slowly increasing since 2014," read The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World annual report.
Beyond ensuring enough food, food must be nutritious, the study underlined, citing costly "health and environmental consequences" of sub-par diets. Nearly 690 million people, or 8.9 percent of people around the globe, are hungry, the UN found.
That number rose by 10 million people in just one year to 2019, and by 60 million in the past five years, found the study, which said eradicating hunger by 2030 - a goal set five years ago - will be impossible if trends continue. By 2030, over 890 million people could be affected by hunger, or 9.8 percent of the world’s population, it estimated.
Meanwhile, more than 80 millionaires Monday urged governments around the world to tax the super-wealthy much more to help fund the global recovery from the coronavirus outbreak.
In an open letter, the group, calling themselves "Millionaires for Humanity", said they should be taxed higher, "immediately, substantially, permanently". The signatories, included Ben and Jerry’s ice cream co-founder Jerry Greenfield, the screenwriter Richard Curtis and filmmaker Abigail Disney.
US entrepreneur Sidney Topol and New Zealand retailer Stephen Tindall also signed. "As COVID-19 strikes the world, millionaires like us have a critical role to play in healing our world," the letter read.
"No, we are not the ones caring for the sick in intensive care wards. "We are not driving the ambulances that will bring the ill to hospitals. We are not restocking grocery store shelves or delivering food door to door.
"But we do have money, lots of it. Money that is desperately needed now and will continue to be needed in the years ahead, as our world recovers from this crisis."
The letter was published before the forthcoming meeting of G20 finance ministers. As countries scramble to respond to the economic impact of the global pandemic, some have already mooted introducing higher taxes.
In the UK, the Institute of Fiscal Studies think-tank has said higher taxes were inevitable for many, not just the super-wealthy.
Meanwhile, the Group of Seven finance ministers Monday called for full implementation of a G20 freeze in debt service payments by all official bilateral creditors and adherence to debt data transparency standards, a US Treasury spokesperson said in a statement.
In a teleconference held early Monday, the G7 ministers also discussed domestic and international economic responses to the coronavirus pandemic and strategies to achieve a robust global recovery, a Treasury statement said.
In addressing the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative offered to the world’s 73 poorest countries through the end of the year, the ministers discussed the need for China, a G20 member and major creditor, to participate fully and transparently, a senior administration official said. “It’s key, both to realizing the full potential of the DSSI and from a transparency perspective,” the official said.
The International Chamber of Commerce, the International Trade Union Confederation and a major civil society group on Monday urged G20 members to extend and expand a freeze in debt service payments.
Meanwhile, the IMF Monday again sharply lowered its Middle East and North Africa economic forecast, to its lowest level in 50 years, over the "twin shock" of the coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices. The region's economy will contract by 5.7 per cent this year, and shrink by as much as 13 per cent in countries torn by conflict, the Fund warned. The economic malaise will see poverty and unemployment rise, stoking social unrest, and send budget deficits and public debt surging, it said.