WHO urges dialogue with virus protesters

By: AFP      Published: 12:41 AM, 1 Sep, 2020
WHO urges dialogue with virus protesters
–File photo

The World Health Organization urged governments Monday to engage with people demonstrating against Covid-19 restrictions and listen to their concerns, but stressed protesters needed to understand the virus was dangerous.

Asked about recent demonstrations in a number of countries against coronavirus restrictions, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was important to "listen to what people are asking, what people are saying".

"We should engage in an honest dialogue," he told reporters, stressing though that demonstrators have a responsibility to ensure protests are safe.

"The virus is real. It is dangerous. It moves fast and it kills," he said, insisting "we have to do everything to protect ourselves and to protect others".

German police on Saturday halted a Berlin march by tens of thousands of people opposed to coronavirus restrictions in the biggest of several European protests against facemask rules and other anti-virus curbs.

Several hundred of the Berlin protesters then broke through barriers and a police cordon to storm Germany's parliament, in a move German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned as "shameful".

Speaking about the broader protests, WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan pointed out that "epidemics and emergencies create strong emotions, and acceptance of measures is always very, very tough.

"It is really important that governments don't overreact to people protesting against measures," he told the virtual briefing.

"The real important thing to do is to enter into a dialogue with groups." 

'Avoid amplifying events'

While acknowledging the importance of allowing different viewpoints to be heard, Tedros took issue with the opinions voiced by some that high death rates were not really a concern if it is mainly the elderly who are dying.

"Accepting someone to die because of age is moral bankruptcy at its highest, and we shouldn't allow our society to behave this way," he said.

"Every life whether it is young or old is precious. And we have to do everything to save it."

Tedros voiced understanding for the growing frustration felt as people continue to have to deal with restrictions eight months into the pandemic.

"We understand that people are tired and yearn to get on with their lives. We understand that countries want to get their societies and economies going again," he said.

The UN health agency, he stressed, "fully supports efforts to re-open economies and societies... but we want to see it done safely."

He also insisted that "no country can just pretend the pandemic is over".

"If countries are serious about opening up, they must be serious about suppressing transmission and saving lives," he said, insisting that "opening up without having control is a recipe for disaster".

One major thing countries could do to control the virus is prevent so-called "amplifying events" like filling stadiums with sports fans, large religious gatherings or packed nightclubs.

"Avoid these amplifying events so that the other economic sectors can actually open up and the economy can go back into life," Tedros said.

"I think we can live without going to the stadium."