Remarks by Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific:
The pandemic is now hitting lower-resource countries with fragile health systems that are less equipped to contain the virus. Infections are accelerating in many parts of the world.But in our Region, most countries are seeing case numbers stabilize or decline. Some have had no new infections in over a month, and most Pacific islands have yet to report a single case.
Although the numbers in the Western Pacific are smaller than other regions, the impact of this pandemic has been huge, for families, societies and economies. We also know that people everywhere are anxious and fatigued.
But there is really no room for complacency. There is still plenty of space for the virus to spread in this region. In this interconnected world, as long as the virus is circulating somewhere, no country is safe.
We must continue responding to the current situation and preparing every corner of every country for the possibility of large-scale community transmission. Here is what we think is important to achieve this.
The tactics used by many countries in our Region—early detection, isolation and treatment, aggressive contact tracing, and mobilizing the public—have kept large-scale community transmission at bay, so far. But now they need to be expanded nationwide, and strengthened further.
Countries need health facilities with enough space and equipment to care for people who are severely sick, and intermediate facilities for those who don’t have severe disease.
We need to make sure systems are prepared to protect those who are most vulnerable, such as those living in care homes and communities with crowded living conditions and a lack of sanitation.
We also need to bring other, routine health services back, like vaccinations, treatment for tuberculosis and care for cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
And importantly, we need to make the ‘new normal’ common practice. This virus depends on human-to-human transmission to survive. So every individual has the power and responsibility, through their actions, to protect themselves, their family, friends and colleagues, health workers, and the vulnerable in their communities.
And this ‘new normal’ isn’t about prioritizing either health or livelihoods. It’s actually about improving both. And decisions about how to do this in different contexts need to be based on data, and they need to be made by bringing together the health sector, economic sector and community at one table.
If we do this well, we can protect ourselves and each other from this disease, but also other threats. We can grow from the ‘new normal’ to a ‘new future’ where health is recognized as an investment. Where healthy people in our communities achieve their full potential, and where inequalities are minimized. This is good for all of us as individuals, but also for our economies and societies. This ‘new future’ is the dividend of COVID-19 which WHO hopes for.
We are now at a decisive moment. We must stay vigilant and keep preparing for further surges of the virus so that, together, we make our way to a better future.