Europe remains ‘in the eye’ of coronavirus storm: WHO

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 09, 2020, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquaters in Geneva. – US President Donald Trump announced on April 14, 2020, a suspension of US funding to the World Health Organization because he said it had covered up the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak in China before it spread around the world. Trump told a press conference he was instructing his administration to halt funding while “a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

The World Health Organization’s European office said Thursday that despite some “optimistic signs” in some of the countries worst hit by the new coronavirus, the number of cases was rising and approaching one million in the continent alone.

“We remain in the eye of the storm,” WHO regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, told a news conference, noting that about half of worldwide confirmed cases were in Europe.

Kluge noted they had seen positive signs in terms of “declining numbers” in Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland.

However, he said the “positive signals” in some countries were overshadowed by sustained or increased levels in other countries, such as Britain, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

As some European countries have started to ease some of the restrictions put in place to curb the spread, Kluge urged countries to make sure that control mechanisms were in place.

“It is imperative that we do not let down our guard,” Kluge said.

Before easing restrictions, Kluge said countries needed to make sure evidence showed that transmission was under control.

Countries also needed to ensure that healthcare had the capacity “to identify, isolate, test, trace contacts and quarantine.”

Kluge also stressed that risks needed to be minimised in high-vulnerability settings, such as retirement homes and areas were people live in crowded places.

Workplaces also needed to take preventative measures, and countries needed to manage importation risks, Kluge added.

If countries could not ensure these criteria, Kluge urged them to “please re-think.”

On Wednesday, Denmark became the first country in Europe to start reopening schools, while Finland lifted a travel blockade on the Helsinki region.

Austria, Italy and Spain have also allowed some businesses to reopen.

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