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          WHO: 'The worst is yet to come' and the coronavirus pandemic is 'speeding up' because some countries aren't taking it seriously enough

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          A park ranger wears a face mask while patrolling a trail in Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona on May 25.
          Mario Tama/Getty Images
          • The World Health Organization said on Monday that "the worst is yet to come" in the fight against the novel coronavirus and that "the pandemic is actually speeding up."
          • There's already a playbook for what works well to stop the virus, but not everyone is using it, WHO said.
          • The multipronged strategy includes widespread testing, tracing, and continued vigilance with social distancing when new clusters of cases emerge.
          • "Every politician needs to look in the mirror and say, 'Am I doing enough to stop this virus?'" the executive director of WHO's Health Emergencies Program said.
          • Visit sunbet's homepage for more stories.

          It's been six months since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency, but on Monday it told the world to prepare for the "long haul" ahead.

          "The worst is yet to come," WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on a call with reporters from Geneva. "I'm sorry to say that. But with this kind of environment and condition, we fear the worst."

          WHO officials stressed repeatedly on the call that not all countries were combatting the virus with the same levels of success or vigilance. With more than half of the 10 million coronavirus cases to date and almost half of the 500,000 deaths in the Americas, there's a lot more that both governments and people in overburdened countries like the US and Brazil could be doing to stop this virus.

          "We all want this to be over, we all want to get on with our lives, but the hard reality is this is not even close to being over," Tedros said. "Although many countries have made some progress, globally, the pandemic is actually speeding up."

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          The virus' spread "could have been prevented through the tools that we have at hand," Tedros said. "Time after time and country after country, what we have seen is this virus can be suppressed if the governments are serious about the things they have to do — their share — and if the community can do its share."

          Read more: Dozens of drugmakers are racing to develop coronavirus vaccines. Here's how they see 2020 playing out and when the first vaccines might be available.

          Some countries can 'pounce on disease' better than others

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          Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

          WHO applauded previously hard-hit countries, like South Korea and China, and others that dealt with recent recurrences of the virus, including Germany, Singapore, and Japan, adding that coronavirus vigilance requires a concerted effort from both politicians and citizens.

          Many of the most successful coronavirus-fighting countries have adopted a multilayered public-health approach allowing them "to pounce on disease" quickly and effectively where it reemerges, said Mike Ryan, the executive director of WHO's Health Emergencies Program.

          "What you have to do is push the disease down to the lowest possible level," he said, stressing that in addition to more nationwide testing and tracing and good public-health surveillance systems, the most successful strategies relied on diligent citizens who stay home when coronavirus transmission is widespread.

          "Communities have made a huge sacrifice for that to happen," Ryan said. "They're staying at home. They're staying away from their families. They've contributed tremendously to suppressing infection."

          Read more: Antibody drugs to prevent and treat the coronavirus are storming into the clinic. Here are the 8 top drugmakers crafting these treatments, which could be ready this fall.

          But that hasn't been the case across much of the US, where many basic public-health measures, such as wearing a mask to prevent asymptomatic transmission and staying home when the virus is spreading in a community, have been couched as political choices.

          In a poll conducted earlier this month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center poll, a majority of Republican and Republican-leaning independents said they thought the worst of the coronavirus outbreak and its related problems "is behind us," while less than a quarter of Democrats and Democratic-leaning participants said the same.

          "We cannot continue to allow the fight against this virus to become and be sustained as an ideologic fight," Ryan said. "We cannot beat this virus with ideologies. We simply cannot."

          coronavirus navajo az us
          Medical staff members consult with a Navajo man at a COVID-19 testing center in the Navajo Nation town of Monument Valley, Arizona, on May 21.
          Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

          Increasingly, top health officials and politicians on both sides of the aisle in the US have encouraged people — including President Donald Trump — to wear masks when they're out in public. Masks can help prevent the disease from spreading to other people, especially from asymptomatic people who may feel perfectly healthy. (Trump said on the first day that the federal government recommended face coverings, "I don't see it for myself.")

          Meanwhile, some governors have started to allow cities and local communities more control over their own virus precautions, as more cases have sprouted up in some heavily populated areas of the US.

          "Every individual needs to look in the mirror and say, 'Am I doing enough?'" Ryan said. "And every politician needs to look in the mirror and say, 'Am I doing enough to stop this virus?'"

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          More: coronavirus Public Health World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19
          Hilary Brueck is a senior health and science reporter at Insider where she focuses on public health and human performance.

          Hilary writes regularly about fitness, nutrition, infectious diseases, vaccine safety, mental health, and toilets of all kinds.


          Her reports range from exploring how sherpas effortlessly climb into the thin air 29,029 feet above the sea to summit Mount Everest, to revealing how the chemicals in our food, water, and homes influence our bodies.


          She's spoken with former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson who spent 665 days circling the planet about the horrors of going to the bathroom in space. She also recently visited the world's oldest Nobel Prize winner, 96-year-old Arthur Ashkin, at his New Jersey home and caught a rare glimpse of his basement solar lab.


          In May, Hilary headed to the Jersey shore to track how scientists are fighting the next killer pandemic flu by studying bird butts, and in September she talked to trailblazing young climate leaders from around the world about their ideas for how to combat the climate crisis.


          Before joining the health team at Insider, Hilary wrote and reported for: Forbes, Fortune, ABC News Radio, Colorado Public Radio, Al Jazeera America, The New Food Economy, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and more.


          A graduate of Columbia Journalism School and former Peace Corps Volunteer, Hilary speaks English, French, and Malagasy.


          If you've got a science question, story tip, or concern for Ms. Brueck, reach out to chat via email.


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