World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus talks during a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquaters in Geneva on March 11, 2020.

Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

Countries that rush to lift quarantine restrictions designed to contain the coronavirus pandemic risks an “even more severe and prolonged” economic downturn and a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Friday.

“We are all aware of the profound social and economic consequences of the pandemic,” Tedros said during a briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva. “Ultimately the best way for countries to end restrictions and ease their economic effects is to attack the virus.”

Globally, there are more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 55,781 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The outbreak, which emerged in China a little over three months ago, has hit economies hard as cities shut down and some people can no longer work.

Earlier in the week, WHO officials said they were “deeply concerned” about the “rapid escalation and global spread” of the outbreak. “Over the past five weeks, we have witnessed a near exponential growth in the number of new cases, reaching almost every country, territory and area,” Tedros said on Wednesday.

Tedros on Friday called on countries to help their citizens by expanding social welfare programs, moving financial barriers and ensuring public health measures are “fully funded.”

“If people delay care or avoid it because they can’t afford it, they not only harm themselves, they make the pandemic harder to control and put society at risk,” he said. “This is an unprecedented crisis which demands an unprecedented response.”

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On Monday, WHO officials said government lockdowns aren’t enough to contain the coronavirus outbreak. However, they are necessary, despite their impact on the economy and society, they said. Without them, the coronavirus would kill even more people.

“This is serious. This is a deadly virus, people will get through it, countries will get through it,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program.

World leaders need to build out their public health systems “if we’re going to get out of an interminable cycle of economically punishing lockdowns and shutdowns,” Ryan said. “We must get back to be able to control this virus, live with this virus, develop the vaccines that we need to finally eradicate this virus.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.



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