A senior World Health Organization (WHO) official called for data-driven Covid-19 public health strategies instead of not making a mere politically-driven decision on school reopening.
“We can’t play Whack-a-mole. We need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time”, said Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, during WHO regular press briefing in Geneva on Monday.
The WHO official said the topic of school reopenings has become a “political football”, which is not fair on children.
“Decisions must be made on data, and an understanding of the risks. There needs to be a sustained commitment on suppressing the virus.
If we can suppress it, then, schools can open safely,” he added. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of WHO, also called for coherent, data-driven strategies that avoid the need to constantly switch from lockdown to reopening, and control the spread of the virus.
He warned that there will be “no return to the ‘old normal’ for the foreseeable future.”
It is possible for countries to suppress the pandemic, allowing people to get on with their lives, as long as governments focus on reducing mortality and transmission, Tedros added.
The WHO chief also said that national responses to the virus, have fallen into four different categories.
The first comprises countries that responded rapidly to the initial cases, were “alert and aware”, communicated effectively to their citizens, and avoided large outbreaks, said the WHO chief.
Examples of these countries can be found in the vast Mekong region of East Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean and Africa.
The second category of country, many of which are in Europe, initially saw major outbreaks, but managed to bring them under control, on a “data-driven, step-by-step basis, with a comprehensive public health approach, backed by a strong health workforce, and community buy-in”.
These countries are on the right track, and show that it’s never too late to bring the virus under control, said Tedros.
However, too many countries are still headed in the wrong direction, sending out mixed messages that undermine public trust, he added.
They include countries in the third category – which initially overcame the first peak of the outbreak, but then eased up only to face new peaks – and the fourth category, currently seen in the Americas, South Asia and several African countries, which are still in the “intense transmission phase” of their outbreak.
However, even for these countries, said the UN health chief, it is never too late to take decisive action, by implementing the basics and delivering clear public health messages, accelerating the science, finding joint solutions, and working in a spirit of solidarity.