Good afternoon everyone and apologies for being late, and apologies too from Dr Tedros, who is just about to land in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where he is following up on important Ebola matters and meeting with President Tshisekdi and many others to look at the future post-Ebola of the health system in Congo.
I’m sure you’ll understand how important a task and mission that is given the last year-and-a-half in Congo and the ongoing struggles in that country to deliver effective healthcare and reduce suffering and mortality from infectious diseases.
Let me start by updating you on the latest numbers.
In the last 24 hours China has reported 1,820 laboratory-confirmed cases, bringing the total to 46,550.
In addition, China reported 13,332 clinically confirmed cases in Hubei province, and crucially, we understand that most of these cases relate to a period going back over days and weeks and are retrospectively reported as cases, sometimes back to the beginning of the outbreak itself.
So this increase that you’ve all seen in the last 24 hours is largely down to a change in how cases are being diagnosed and reported.
So, in other words, in Hubei province only, a trained medical professional can now classify a suspected case of COVID-19 as a clinically-confirmed case on the basis of chest imaging, rather than having to have a laboratory confirmation.
This allows clinicians to move and report cases more quickly, not having to wait for lab confirmation, ensuring that people get to clinical care more quickly, and also allows public health responses in terms of contact tracing and other important public health measures to be initiated.
As you’ve noticed with suspect cases, there have been some backlogs in testing and this is also going to help ensure that people get adequate care and adequate public health measures can be taken.
So we are not dealing, from what we understand, with a spike in cases of 14,000 on one day.
To an extent this is an artefact of the reporting and we are working with our colleagues in China, and our team there are working very hard to see exactly how many days and weeks and how those numbers are spread across those days and weeks.
In the rest of China and the rest of the world, laboratory confirmation for reporting is still required.
WHO will continue to track both laboratory and clinically-confirmed cases in Hubei province.
We’ve seen this spike in the number of cases reported in China, but this does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak.
Outside China, there are 447 cases from 24 other countries, and now two deaths. In addition to the death in the Philippines, there is now one more death in Japan.
We have said consistently that we need to be cautious when drawing conclusions from daily reported numbers. I think we were having that discussion yesterday and I think the numbers today speak to that.
We need to be very careful when interpreting any extremes. Be it in incubation period, be it in daily numbers, we must take all numbers into account, we must look at all numbers seriously but we also must try and interpret what those numbers mean and not react directly to the number itself.
The number of countries reporting cases has still not changed and outside the cases on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, we’re not seeing a dramatic increase in transmission outside China.
That is the current picture. We’re still saying to governments around the world that we still have an opportunity to prepare for the potential spread of the virus.
Regarding the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is currently quarantined in Yokohama, 218 passengers have tested positive for the virus, which does represent the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases outside China.
This morning, I briefed health ministers from the European Union, convened by Croatia, the presidency, about COVID-19 and our teams are working with governments and partners of the European Union to ensure that the latest information is disseminated, that preparations are made and there’s good coordination between ourselves and the European Union and our WHO Regional Office for Europe.
And we very much welcome the strong support from the European Union in supporting countries with weaker health systems and ensuring that other countries have the investment and support needed to prepare for the arrival of the virus.
In terms of the international mission, the advanced team and their Chinese counterparts have now finalized the scope of work and design of the mission and we expect the rest of the international team to start arriving in China over the weekend.