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Stop the Posturing on COVID-19

No country is immune from the threat posed by COVID-19 and other fast-spreading viruses. In fact, climate change, increased global mobility, and demographic shifts are likely to increase the risks, uncertainties, and costs associated with similar outbreaks in the future.

ADDIS ABABA – The COVID-19 outbreak is threatening to become a global pandemic of the type not seen for a century. This new coronavirus has now spread to 77 countries, infecting over 93,000 people and killing more than 3,200; so far, 86% of cases and 93% of deaths have been in China, where the outbreak began. With the virus now having been identified on six continents, the World Health Organization has raised its threat assessment to its highest level. And Bill Gates, who previously has been vocal about the danger of a global pandemic, says COVID-19 “has started behaving a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about.”

The outbreak quickly became a highly politicized topic. Senior WHO officials, for example, were criticized both for applauding the Chinese government’s efforts to contain the virus and for their own delay in declaring it an epidemic. Moreover, despite repeated calls for more resources to tackle the virus, the WHO has received only a small amount of the support pledged by the international community, forcing it to rely instead on its internal lending mechanisms. And at a time when governments should be taking coordinated action to contain the virus, many airlines have suspended flights to China, even though the WHO and the International Air Transport Association have not advised such a move.

The response to the Chinese government’s unprecedented and largely successful measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, including travel and movement restrictions within infection hotspots, has been mixed. While Western mainstream media have tended to describe the lockdown of Wuhan and other Chinese cities with a total population of about 60 million as “draconian,” former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed a supportive message for the bold and necessary measures.

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