‘You cannot shut down the world,’ WHO says amid concerns on coronavirus ‘superspreader’

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 11 2020 04:26 PM

A resident wearing a protective mask and a plastic bag is seen outside a supermarket in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak of a novel coronavirus, in China’s central Hubei province. The death toll from the novel coronavirus surged past 1,000 in mainland China on February 10, overtaking global fatalities in the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, even as the World Health Organization said the outbreak appeared to be stabilizing. AFP Stringer

MANILA – The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said canceling events such as international conferences are not always necessary amid the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

“Certainly it is always a concern if people come together…We have to have risk management procedures associated with that,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press briefing posted online.

“You cannot shut down the world either. Normal activity must go on,” he added in response to questions about “super-spreaders” or individuals who are able to transmit disease at a much higher rate than the world average.

The issue of superspreading came up as more than 40,000 people have been infected with more than 1,000 dead. While 99 percent of the cases are in China, the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD) has also reached other countries.

One report said a British businessman may have unintentionally spread the virus in at least three European countries, linking him to 11 other patients, according to The Guardian. The report said he likely contracted the virus in Singapore where he attended a sales conference. Of the 109 attendees, 94 traveled from abroad, including one from Wuhan, China. 

After the sales conference in Singapore, the British man then went to a French ski resort with his family. It was later reported that five other British citizens who stayed in the same chalet tested positive for the new strain of coronavirus. Other confirmed cases were later reported.

However, Ghebreyesus said the numbers are still in single digits. 

“What we need to see is reasonable, well-managed meetings and gatherings in which the risk is managed appropriately,” he said, explaining that events cannot be canceled at the slightest possibility of an infection.

“Where is the limit to this?” he said. “We need to remain calm. We need to be measured.”

“There is no zero risk in life,” he pointed out, saying that any event can lead to illness or accidents.

He said people should instead take a “risk management approach” by identifying risks and managing it.

WHO Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness Director Dr. Sylvie Briand also said that people should “look at superspreading events, not people” to avoid “stigmatization” or discriminating against individuals.

In the Philippines, the Department of Health has recommended the cancellation of concerts after it confirmed three positive cases of novel coronavirus.