For two months, the world watched as efforts to contain the coronavirus focused on China. But new outbreak epicentres thousands of miles away have been driving cross-border infections since mid-February – including to a handful of countries already hit with humanitarian crises.
Over the last two weeks, more than three dozen countries or territories have reported new coronavirus infections linked to people travelling from two hubs: Italy or Iran. Outbreaks in both countries have surged. A growing list stretches from European and Middle East nations to as far away as New Zealand, the Caribbean, and South America.
Cases have also risen dramatically in South Korea, but cross-border infections have not been widely reported.
In some countries – like France, Germany, and Malaysia – the new infections add to an existing caseload traced to patients who travelled in Asia. Other nations are seeing cases emerge for the first time.
The quality of health systems varies greatly from country to country, but some are especially unprepared to respond to epidemics in part due to long distances and poor infrastructure, according to the Global Health Security Index published last year.
Many countries have ratcheted up border closures or travel restrictions, but the WHO says this has delayed but not prevented infections. Public health experts say border closures can exacerbate outbreaks by driving migration underground – away from public health systems.
The WHO has launched a $675 million response plan aimed at helping countries with weaker health systems prepare for outbreaks. As of Monday, only $2.5 million had been received (though some $31 million was also pledged), according to the WHO. The UN’s humanitarian aid arm, OCHA, said it would dip into its Central Emergency Response Fund – more often used to kickstart disaster relief – to help contain the virus.
[The New Humanitarian]