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Coronavirus outbreak: Trade, travel must not be curbed during emergency, says WHO chief scientist

Her remarks come in light of dearth of medical supplies in Wuhan, China for healthcare workers

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Published: February 26, 2020 2:13:52 am
coronavirus, COVID-19, coronavirus death rate, coronavirus death toll, coronavirus India cases, coronavirus cure, coronavirus infection, Indian express People wearing protective masks walk outside Forbidden City in Beijing, China. (REUTERS/FILE)

World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan has said that trade and travel must not be curtailed during an international emergency. She also said that to control the outbreak of novel coronavirus or Covid-19, the immediate priority must be to ensure that frontline health workers have access to safety gear.

Her remarks come in light of dearth of medical supplies in Wuhan, China for healthcare workers. On February 22, India’s Ministry of Commerce and Trade issued a notification prohibiting export of protective gear, including N-95 masks, surgical and disposable gloves and masks. The notification elicited a response from Chinese Embassy, which said it hopes India would “resume normal exchange of trade as soon as possible” and “handle with China’s much-needed items in a cooperative and constructive way”.

While Swaminathan said WHO does not comment on specific issues between two countries, she added, “When an international emergency is declared, there are so many preparations and precautions needed. But even then we say trade and travel must not be curtailed, it must not be affected.”

“I am not sure why this (export ban) was done. I think India wants to stock for its own national needs….” She said that WHO is mobilising and talking to manufacturers, private sector associations to ensure supply chain should gets going.

WHO’s director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had earlier this month said the availability of protective gear is an issue and it must be ensured that health workers get supplies first.

As on Tuesday, China had recorded over 77,658 cases, with around 2,663 fatalities. India first placed a ban on export of protective gear on January 31. Over the past one month, it has issued three notifications on the export ban of protective gear. On February 8, the export prohibition was partially lifted.

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