GENEVA (NewsNation Now) — The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization said Monday the agency’s “best estimates” roughly 1 in 10 people may have been infected with COIV-19, leaving the vast majority of the world’s population vulnerable to the disease.
Dr. Michael Ryan, speaking to a special session of the WHO’s 34-member executive board focusing on COVID-19, said the figures vary from urban to rural areas, and between different groups, but that ultimately it means “the vast majority of the world remains at risk.” He said the pandemic would continue to evolve, but that tools exist to suppress transmission and save lives.
“Many deaths have been averted and many more lives can be protected,” Ryan said. He was flanked by his boss, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who minutes earlier led a moment of silence to honor victims, as well as a round of applause for the health workers who have strived to save them.
“Our current best estimates tell us that about 10 percent of the global population may have been infected by this virus,” Ryan told attendees from governments who make up the executive board and provide much of the WHO’s funding.
The estimate — which would amount to more than 760 million people based on a current world population of about 7.6 billion — is much greater than the number of confirmed cases as tallied by both the WHO and Johns Hopkins University, now more than 35 million worldwide.
Ryan did not elaborate on the estimate. Dr. Margaret Harris, a WHO spokeswoman, said it was based on an average of antibody studies conducted around the world. She said the estimated 90 percent of people remaining without infection means the virus has “opportunity” to spread further “if we don’t take action to stop it” such as by contact-tracing and tracking of cases by health officials.
Tedros, during his remarks, said: “What we have learned in every region of the world is that with strong leadership, clear and comprehensive strategies, consistent communication, and engaged, empowered and enabled population, it’s never too late … Every situation can be turned around — and hard-won gains can be easily lost.”
“The pandemic underlines the fundamental importance of investing in public health and primary health care,” said Tedros, wearing a black, red and yellow mask.
The comments came during a special session of the executive board to consider the follow-up to its previous meeting, in May, that passed a resolution to look into the world’s — and WHO’s — response to the pandemic, among other things.
The two-day meeting is the first by the executive board since the Trump administration declared a one-year countdown this summer toward pulling the United States out of the WHO next July. President Donald Trump, who himself has been infected by COVID-19, has stated the WHO of being too accepting of China’s explanations of its handling of the outbreak in Wuhan late last year.
Assistant Secretary of Health Brett Giroir, the U.S. representative on the board, told the meeting by videoconference that the United States “looks forward to working together to defeat this pandemic and move our people and economics back to normalcy.”
Giroir also pressed WHO to clear up its relationship with the Chinese government. He said a “key mandate” from the resolution in May was its call for a joint mission involving the WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health, and the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization to look into the animal origins of the virus and its transmission to humans.
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Ryan also said the World Health Organization has submitted a list of experts to take part in an international mission to China to investigate the origin of the coronavirus.
“At the moment WHO has prepared a list of candidates to join such an international mission from all around the world both through direct contact with member states and a call for participation through the growing network. And a list of candidates has been submitted to the Chinese authorities for their consideration and for next steps in order to deploy that team,” said Ryan.
Chinese board member Zhang Yang, speaking by videoconference, said China has been “transparent and responsible” and has been fulfilling its responsibilities under the resolution. She said it had been communicating regularly with the WHO and keeping up its financial commitments to the U.N. agency.
It’ll be considered by Chinese authorities.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.