March 16, 2020 / 4:29 PM / 18 days ago

'Test, test, test': WHO chief's coronavirus message to world

ZURICH/LAUSANNE (Reuters) - The World Health Organization called on all countries on Monday to ramp up their testing programs as the best way to slow the advance of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have a simple message to all countries - test, test, test,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference in Geneva.

“All countries should be able to test all suspected cases, they cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded,” he added.

In the United States, the Trump administration has come under fire from critics for what they say has been a slow gearing up of testing for the new virus.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence promised on Sunday that Americans would have access in the days ahead to more than 2,000 laboratories capable of processing tests.

With limited testing available, U.S. officials have recorded nearly 3,000 cases and 62 deaths, and large segments of daily activities have been upended across the country.

Without testing, cases could not be isolated and the chain of infection would not be broken, Tedros said.

Even countries with advanced health systems have struggled to cope with the outbreak, Tedros said, adding he was deeply concerned about its effects on low-income countries where people already struggled with malnutrition and other health problems.

A logo is pictured outside a building of the World Health Organization (WHO) during an executive board meeting on update on the coronavirus outbreak, in Geneva, Switzerland, February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/Files

The strategy to contain the disease, by finding people with infections and rapidly isolating them, was still the best approach, said the WHO chief. It had shown positive effects in China, South Korea and Singapore, he added.

Meanwhile Tedros said he was cheered by the response from governments coming forward with funding to fight the outbreak.

“It’s not just the funding, it is human spirit which we see, that is fighting this virus, that is coming more strongly,” he added. “I am really encouraged in the last week or so with the solid level of solidarity I see.”

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