The World Health Organization warned world leaders Wednesday that they will need to manage around the coronavirus for the foreseeable future as cases level off or decline in some countries, while peaking in others and resurging in areas where the Covid-19 pandemic appeared to be under control.
“Make no mistake, we have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
While social distancing measures put in place in numerous countries to slow the spread of the coronavirus have been successful, the virus remains “extremely dangerous,” Tedros said. Current data show “most of the world’s population remains susceptible,” he said, meaning outbreaks can easily “reignite.”
“People in countries with stay-at-home orders are understandably frustrated with being confined to their homes for weeks on end. People understandably want to get on with their lives,” he said. “But the world will not and can not go back to the way things were. There must be a new normal.”
The coronavirus has infected more than 2.5 million people worldwide and killed at least 178,845 since it emerged almost four months ago, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
WHO officials have previously said partisan politics and a lack of global solidarity are helping to fuel the coronavirus pandemic, urging countries to work together as Covid-19 continues to spread throughout the world.
WHO said Wednesday officials are seeing a number of countries that appeared to be successful in stopping the virus now reporting a resurgence in cases again. “And that’s because a large proportion of the population does remain susceptible,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, told reporters.
In some regions, such as North America and Europe, public health officials are also seeing “devastating” outbreaks inside long-term care facilities, WHO officials said.
“As long as the virus is here, there’s always an opportunity for that to happen,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program. “It is very difficult to reduce that risk to zero. Each country is going to have to look at how we can minimize bringing the disease into such a setting.”
Ryan also said it’s important to have clear communication between government officials and the general population, who need to understand why they are doing certain actions.
Symptoms of the coronavirus can include a sore throat, runny nose, diarrhea, fever or pneumonia and can progress to multiple organ failure or even death in some cases, according to WHO. The median time from the first sign of symptoms to recovery for mild cases is approximately two weeks and between three to six weeks for patients with severe or critical disease, according to the WHO, citing early data from China. It can take up to eight weeks for someone to die from the virus, research shows.
Last week, WHO said there’s no evidence serological tests can show whether a person has immunity or is no longer at risk of becoming reinfected.
Kerkhove said WHO officials discovered many countries suggesting these tests would be able to “capture what they think will be a measure of immunity.”