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WHO - World Health Organization

01/14/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 01/14/2021 07:24

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the 6th Meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee on COVID-19

Professor Didier Houssin,

Dear members and advisors of the Emergency Committee, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, and I wish all of you a very happy New Year.

I very much appreciate your commitment to the work of this committee, and your flexibility in agreeing to move this meeting forward by two weeks.

When you first met almost a year ago, just 557 cases of the disease we now call COVID-19 had been reported to WHO.

More than 90 million cases have now been reported, and almost 2 million deaths.

13 members of the international mission to study the origins of the virus have arrived in Wuhan today. The other two are still in Singapore after they tested positive for IgM antibodies, but negative for PCR. They are now being retested for both IgM and IgG, and we are waiting for results.

All members of the team had multiple negative PCR and antibody tests in their homes countries prior to traveling.

The team members who have arrived in Wuhan will be in quarantine for the next two weeks, and will begin working remotely with counterparts in China. They will then continue their work on the ground for a further two weeks.

I'm sure, like me, your main hope and wish for 2021 is that together we can end the pandemic and help to restore a sense of normalcy in all countries.

The rollout of vaccines is of course giving all of us hope of light at the end of the tunnel.

WHO's most urgent focus now is ensuring that all countries have access to vaccines on an equitable basis.

There are two urgent issues which need particular attention, and for which we seek your advice today: the first is the recent emergence of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus; and the second is the potential use of vaccination and testing certificates for international travel.

One theme ties both issues together: solidarity. We cannot afford to prioritize or punish certain groups or countries.

We are all in this together, and we must all come out of it together.

Although we won't have much time today to reflect on other areas, it's worth mentioning progress made on some of your previous recommendations.

Globally, we now see a much higher awareness of nuanced, science-based public health approaches to respond to the pandemic.

We also see increased engagement and buy-in of individuals and communities to play their part in keeping themselves and others safe.

We urge countries to be careful, however, with risk communication. Messaging needs to be positive, explaining actions, timelines and mitigation efforts. As we all know, this is key for any public health intervention.

Despite all our efforts, we still have not succeeded in protecting the most vulnerable groups.

We urge countries to concentrate on settings with the highest risk of transmission.

Now is the time to set up sustainable response strategies and to measure and monitor the impact of interventions so that we will be able to learn and benefit in the future.

I would like to thank all of the guest experts and colleagues who will present to you today.

And I would especially like to thank Professor Didier Houssin for chairing this Committee over such a long period in very challenging times, and I thank each and every one of you for your commitment and support. We rely on your advice and your expertise.

Thank you once again, I wish you a successful meeting, and I look forward to receiving your advice.