Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, who helps lead the WHO’s pandemic response, said that ‘localised’ measures should instead be used to stem Covid-19
The World Health Organisation has urged countries not to reimpose national lockdowns in an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19 due to the health, social and economic repercussions.
In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, who helps lead the WHO’s pandemic response team as the head of the emerging diseases unit, said that countries should instead adopt localised strategies.
By the end of March, as the coronavirus outbreak spiralled out of control across the globe, well over 100 countries had imposed a full or partial lockdown – affecting billions of people.
Dr Van Kerkhove described these measures as a “blunt, sheer force instrument” that bought countries time to build the public health infrastructure needed to tackle Covid-19.
But reflecting on events since the WHO declared a global health emergency six months ago – when fewer than 8,000 cases and 170 deaths had been reported – she added that the economic, health and social costs of lockdown have been “massive”.
The 43-year-old, who has become a familiar face having appeared alongside WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at press briefings for months, added that countries should not rely on a jab as a silver bullet to bring the raging pandemic to a close.
“In the next six months we will not have a vaccine,” she said frankly. “I know there’s a lot of work that’s being accelerated in terms of having a safe and effective vaccine, but we cannot wait until next year for one to come around.”
Instead Dr Van Kerkhove urged countries to make use of the tools currently available to adopt a “tailored, specific, localised” approach to contain new clusters of infections.
“The speed of the science on this has been extraordinary… we have tools right now that can prevent transmission and save lives,” Dr Van Kerkhove said, referencing measures including contacting tracing, widespread testing, equipping health facilities, physical distancing and wearing face masks.
“It isn’t one measure alone, all of the existing measures need to be used together. And it works. The reason we keep saying that it works is because we’ve seen this happen, we have seen countries bring these outbreaks under control,” she said.