WHO calls for strict public health measures amid Covid surge in South-East Asia

The World Health Organization on Saturday called for stringent implementation of public health and social measures as Covid-19 cases surged in most countries in the South-East Asia region, with some nations witnessing an exponential rise.

“All preventive and protective measures must be implemented with full earnestness by one and all. Authorities must implement situation-specific measures to arrest the further spread of the virus. People must adhere to these measures. Masks, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, ventilation and physical distancing is an absolute must,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.

Though the Omicron variant of Covid-19 may appear to be less severe, it should not be dismissed as ‘mild’, she said. The highly infectious variant, which has emerged as the most predominant one, is already overwhelming health systems around the world, she pointed out, adding that globally the Omicron variant has led to hospitalisations and deaths.

“We must also not forget that not every Covid-19 case is an Omicron infection. Other variants including Delta are also circulating which, as we know, causes severe infections and deaths,” the Regional Director said. Each positive case of Covid-19 should, hence, be a cause of concern.

The covid-19 virus spreads mainly between people who are in close contact with each other, for example at a conversational distance. The virus can also spread in poorly ventilated indoor settings or crowded settings, Dr Singh said.

Often, infected people do not have symptoms or don’t know that they are carrying the virus, so it is important to ensure good ventilation by opening windows and doors when sharing an indoor space with other people. It is extremely important for people to wear well-fitting masks and avoid crowds, besides taking other precautions.

Scaling up Covid vaccination coverage is another key preventive measure, and all efforts must continue to ensure that the high-risk population is protected at the earliest. Even after being fully vaccinated, people must continue to take all preventive and protective measures. “It’s time to do all we can, to arrest the current surge,” the Regional Director said.

To save lives, we must prevent overburdening of our health systems, she pointed out. An overburdened health system would neither be able to save preventable Covid deaths nor would it be able to deliver essential services to save lives from other diseases for which people may need surgery or urgent critical care.

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