By Stephanie Nebehay and Kate Kelland
GENEVA/LONDON (Reuters) – The epidemic of COVID-19 coronavirus infection spreading around the world can be contained and controlled, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, but only with a concerted response by all governments.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus voiced concerns at the growing number of countries with cases, especially those with weaker health systems and called on governments to harness all ministries to tackle the virus.
He said the current situation did not amount to a pandemic but his United Nations agency would use the term if and when the time came.
“I also agree that the situation could be worse than what we have now, and it could be at pandemic level. But what at the same time we are saying is there are countries that with this situation that have shown that it can be contained so we should not give up.
“If we get there, we will say it – no problem at all. Based on science and evidence,” Tedros told a news briefing in Geneva.
On Jan. 30 the WHO declared the outbreak that originated in China an international emergency. It does not have a formal classification for declaring a pandemic for diseases other than influenza. COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, not flu.
“We are calling on every country to act with speed, scale and clear-minded determination,” Tedros said.
He voiced concern that “some countries have either not taken this seriously enough, or have decided there is nothing they can do” but named no names.
In Iran, 107 people have died and 3,513 have been infected with coronavirus in Iran, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur announced on state TV on Thursday.
Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergencies expert, noting that a WHO team of experts arrived in Iran on Monday, told reporters on Thursday: “I think what is happening now in Iran is good. They are beginning to really identify what is the depth of this problem in order to address this problem.
“Every country gets caught behind at the beginning of an epidemic…And we are there with the Iranian authorities now looking at the response and seeing what more needs to be done.”
In an apparent reference to international sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, which have complicated imports of humanitarian supplies, Ryan added: “And a lot needs to be done, quite frankly. And Iran has suffered in the last number of years.
“We are having to send in supplies, in a strange situation that we have to fly supplies in military planes borrowed from the UAE (United Arab Emirates) into Iran,” he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Kate Kelland in London; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)