As South Africa fumbles COVID-19 testing, WHO warns social distancing is not enough


AS SOUTH AFRICA continues to struggle to ramp up basic testing for COVID-19, experts at the World Health Organization on Monday emphasized that countries should prioritize such testing— and that social-distancing measures are not enough.

“We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (aka Dr. Tedros) said in a press briefing March 16.

Dr. Tedros noted that, as the numbers of cases and deaths outside of China have quickly risen, many countries—including the US—have urgently adopted so-called social-distancing measures, such as shuttering schools, canceling events, and having people work from home. While these measures can slow transmission and allow health care systems to better cope, they are “not enough to extinguish this pandemic,” Dr. Tedros warned.

What’s needed is a comprehensive approach, he said. “But we have not seen an urgent-enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the response,” Dr. Tedros said.

“The most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission,” he went on. “And to do that, you must test and isolate. You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.”

SEE: US testing response flounders 

SEE: Singapore’s Portable Covid-19 Swab Test 

SEE: Covid-19 Facts: Surviving the Covid-19 ‘Immunity’ Disaster

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