Covid-19 is “proving exceptionally difficult to stop,” WHO says

WHO Health Emergencies Programme Director Michael Ryan attends a press conference on July 3 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Fabrice Coffrini/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

There was always a chance that Covid-19 would flare up again, even after it was suppressed, and countries need to focus on their response to these flare-ups, according to World Health Organization officials.

“There was always a likelihood that diseases, that we have said – it would spike and there would be flare ups of the virus – because until the virus has gone, there’s always a chance of flare-ups,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, during a news briefing in Geneva on Monday.

Countries really need to focus their response on the inevitable flareups, Ryan said – how fast and how effectively they respond to them, and if they are able to shut them down as quickly as possible, and move on to the next flare-up.

“I know that’s not what people want to hear, but that is the reality,” he said.

Once the virus has been bought down to a low level and these flare-ups do occur, how quickly a country or area is able to respond to them, and how localized they can be in their response, really comes down to how well they have invested in the ability to do things such as surveillance, quarantine and contact tracing, according to Ryan.

While viruses often show seasonality when there are not control measures in place, Covid-19 has not shown this. But, what it has “clearly demonstrated is you take the pressure off the virus, the virus bounces back,” Ryan said.

“That’s the reality. That’s the fact. You can call that a second wave, you can call that a second spike, you can call that a flare-up. You can call it anything you like. Take the pressure off this virus, the virus will bounce back,” he said.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, agreed with Ryan.

Everyone on the planet should know what their role is in the fight against Covid-19 and manage their own risk, she said.

“We know if the virus has an opportunity to spread, it will, and it hasn’t gone away,” she said.

There is no indication of seasonality. The virus hasn’t gone away and that the majority of the population remains susceptible to infection, she said.

“So, we have to do everything that we can to prevent infections and save lives,” Van Kerkhove said. “Do it all. Physical distance, wear a mask where appropriate, make sure you practice respiratory etiquette, avoid crowded settings, follow national guidance, be informed. All of this needs to be done every day.”