. . . travel restrictions increase fear and stigma: WHO
Desmond Munemo, H-Metro Reporter
The rapid spread of 2019-novel coronavirus has been accompanied by misinformation and hoaxes online, including false claims about its source, spread and how to treat it.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday made remarks on restrictions that have seen notable countries imposing travel bans following the outbreak of coronavirus.
“Travel restrictions created in the wake of the outbreak can lead to increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefits.
“The agency was working with major internet platforms to ensure that WHO’s information about the coronavirus appears first in online searches,” said Ghebreyesus.
Minister of Health and Child Care Obadiah Moyo said the Zimbabwean government stands guided by the WHO statement and resolutions.
“Zimbabwe is guided by the WHO and we maintain the same view while bordering on the fact that the world body last week declared the virus an international emergency,” he said.
Minister Moyo added that it is not imperative for Zimbabwe to dissuade travel and trade restrictions which have been said to fuel stigma and fear.
“Yes, we are guided by the principals of the WHO and acknowledge the concerns but in our case, China and Zimbabwe as long term partners agreed to certain restrictions.
“There are travel restrictions between the nations except for emergences which have measures already in place.
“All visitors from China are placed under surveillance and for a 12 day period they will be closely monitored,” said Min Moyo.
Over 22 nations have reported trade or travel-related measures linked to the coronavirus, which Tedros said should be short in duration, proportionate to public health risks and reviewed regularly.
Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the WHO Executive Board that some restrictions went against the UN agency’s advice. He cited prohibitions on entry of foreigners who have visited China in the past 14 days, suspension of visa issuance and cancellation of flights.
“Do not engage in over-reaction.
“You should follow WHO suggestions and refrain from restrictions on international travel or trade stay clear of discriminatory actions and stigmatization,” said Chen.
Sylvie Briand, director of global infectious hazard preparedness at the World Health Organization (WHO), said in a press conference on Tuesday that the virus is currently considered to be an epidemic with multiple locations.
“Currently we are not in a pandemic, and we are at a phase where we have an epidemic of coronavirus with multiple foci and we try to extinguish each of these foci.
“When you deal with an epidemic, you rapidly see that in addition to the epidemic of diseases, we often have an epidemic of information. And this is what we call ‘infodemic’.
“And so we have realised over time that this infodemic could be really an obstacle for good response and hamper effective implementation of counter-measures,” explained Briand.
She also said the WHO was working with different countries on repatriation of people from China and is having intense discussions to see how the practices can be harmonized.
“WHO currently has no evidence of transformation of the virus and it is quite a stable virus,” she added.
The last pandemic reported was the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, which killed hundreds of thousand worldwide.
Previous emergencies have included Ebola, Zika and H1N1
According to WHO, the new virus has infected more than 20,000 people across 26 countries and territories and killed more than 420, but the majority of cases currently estimated at 78 percent are coming from Hubei province in China.
Furthermore, about 97 percent of the deaths have occurred in China’s Hubei Province.
Over 42 countries have effected bans and only 38 percent of those countries have shared full information about their cases with WHO.
There are 27 cases of human-to-human transmission in nine countries, officials said.
A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease, according to the WHO.
More than 24 nations have reported cases but, so far, no confirmations have been made across Africa or Latin America.
On Tuesday, three more Asian countries – Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand – confirmed infections among citizens who had not travelled to China.
Officials say 425 people have died in China and one in Hong Kong. One death has also been confirmed in the Philippines.