While acknowledging the difficult task set out for governments, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said too many countries are headed in the wrong direction with the pandemic.
The World Health Organization's chief has slammed some government leaders for eroding public trust by sending mixed messages on the coronavirus.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Sunday that their failures to stop their countries’ spiralling outbreaks mean there would be no return to normal “for the foreseeable future.”
Without calling out specific politicians, Ghebreyesus said “too many countries are headed in the wrong direction" with the pandemic and some were not taking the proper steps to curb infections.
At the same time, Tedros acknowledged how difficult it was for governments to respond effectively, given the economic, social and cultural consequences of imposing restrictions.
“The virus remains public enemy No 1, but the actions of many governments and people do not reflect this,” he said on Monday.
"Mixed messages from leaders are undermining the most— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) July 13, 2020
critical ingredient of any response: trust.
If governments do not clearly communicate with their citizens and roll out a comprehensive strategy focused on suppressing transmission and saving lives"-@DrTedros #COVID19
Urging implementation of local lockdowns
The director-general's remarks to reporters in Geneva came a day after WHO reported yet another worldwide record of more than 230,000 confirmed cases in 24 hours.
Ten countries accounted for 80 percent of the daily tally reported on Sunday, and more than half of the new confirmed cases came from the United States and Brazil alone.
The UN health agency said government and individual responses should depend on local conditions - namely, whether there is widespread community spread of the virus.
Take schools: Many countries have reopened classrooms as their daily case counts fell, but some nations are playing “political football” by calling for schools to reopen without having broader control measures in place such as keeping shops closed or limiting public gatherings, WHO said.
“Mixed messages from leaders are undermining the most critical ingredient of any response: trust,” Tedros said on Monday, adding that governments should communicate clearer public health messages and individuals should maintain social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing and staying home when they have Covid-19 symptoms.
As the UK emerges from a nationwide lockdown, government leaders were chastised in recent days for giving inconsistent statements on the merits of wearing face masks inside public place, among other issues.
It will get worse
The British government decided on Monday to require people to wear face coverings in shops, joining a long list of countries that have made masks mandatory under some circumstances. After weeks of prevarication and days of confused messaging, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government said that masks will be required in stores starting July 24.
Without applying basic outbreak-control methods, “there is only one way this pandemic is going to go,” WHO chief Tedros cautioned.
"It’s going to get worse and worse and worse,” he said, continuing with a blunt warning. “There will be no return to the old normal for the foreseeable future.”
Still, WHO pointed to a sign of hope in countries that had experienced massive outbreaks and death tolls and managed to get the virus under control.
Leaders in countries like the United States, Brazil and India that are still facing large outbreaks have variously rejected or played down advice or recommendations from scientific experts, advisers in government and their political allies to take tougher action.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has frequently questioned the utility of lockdown measures and largely shunned masks.
Amid a debate in places like the United States about whether schools can reopen, the WHO's emergencies chief said any such decisions require a broader outlook that takes into account how workplaces or long-term care facilities operate, too.
“We can’t turn schools into yet another political football in this game. It’s not fair on our children,” Ryan said. “We have to make decisions that are based on the best interests of our children, be it their educational or their health interests.”
US President Donald Trump has pressured school districts in America to reopen this fall, threatening to cut off funding for ones that don’t comply.