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COVID-19 pandemic 'accelerating': WHO chief

The remarks came as the number of deaths soared past 15,000, with more than 341,000 people infected worldwide, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.

March 24, 2020 / 08:50 AM IST

The new coronavirus pandemic is clearly "accelerating", the World Health Organization warned, but said it was still possible to "change the trajectory" of the outbreak.

The remarks came as the number of deaths soared past 15,000, with more than 341,000 people infected worldwide, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.

"The pandemic is accelerating," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in a virtual news briefing.

He said it took 67 days from the beginning of the outbreak in China in late December for the virus to infect the first 100,000 people worldwide.

In comparison, it took 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just four days for the third 100,000 cases, he said.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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The number of cases is believed to represent only a fraction of the true number of infections, with many countries only testing the most severe cases in need of hospitalisation.

"We are not helpless bystanders. We can change the trajectory of this pandemic," Tedros said.

He called for a mixed approach, which he likened to a football match, after he and FIFA chief Gianni Infantino jointly launched a campaign aimed at spreading the message of how to protect against infection "to kick out coronavirus." "You can't win a football game only by defending. You have to attack as well," he said.

"Asking people to stay at home and other physical distancing measures are an important way of slowing down the spread of the virus and buying time, but they are defensive measures that will not help us to win," he warned.

"To win, we need to attack the virus with aggressive and targeted tactics," he said, reiterating a call for "testing every suspected case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case and tracing and quarantining every close contact."

But the WHO chief acknowledged that a number of countries were struggling to take more aggressive measures due to a lack of resources and access to tests.

Tedros praised the great energy being put into research and development to find a vaccine and of drugs to treat COVID-19.

But he said that "there is currently no treatment that has been proven to be effective against COVID-19," and warned against the use of drugs not proven to work against the disease.

"Using untested medicines without the right evidence could raise false hope and even do more harm than good, and cause a shortage of essential medicines that are needed to treat other diseases," he said.

Among other things, countries are looking at using antimalarial drugs as a treatment against the new coronavirus.
PTI
first published: Mar 24, 2020 08:35 am

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