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Demonstrators must protect themselves, and others, from COVID-19: UN health agency

5 June 2020 - Demonstrators who want to go into the street to make their voices heard, should take every precaution against catching or passing on the coronavirus, as the global pandemic is far from over, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

The message from the UN agency comes amid ongoing protests in the United States at the killing of George Floyd while being pinned to the ground with a police officer's knee on his neck, and concerns of a "second wave" of infections in countries where lockdown restrictions have eased.

"It's not over until there's no virus anywhere in the world", said WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris. "So, all the things we have been saying (still) apply. The best precaution is being able to stay one metre away from each other, being able to wash your hands, being able to ensure that you don't touch your mouth, nose and eyes…We have certainly seen a lot of passion this week, we've seen people who've felt the need to be out and express their feelings, but we ask them to remember: still protect yourself and others, the coronavirus is all around, protect yourselves and others while expressing yourselves."

Americas infections 'disturbing'

At a virtual Press briefing in Geneva, Dr Harris also described galloping infection rates in the Americas – the current regional hotspot for infection - as "deeply, deeply disturbing".

According to latest WHO data, the US has seen more than 106,000 deaths from the disease and over 1.8 million confirmed infections.

Latin America's largest country, Brazil, has had more than 580,000 cases of infection and some 32,500 deaths.

Governments should urgently "test, track, find everybody who has potentially got the virus" as the best available way to eradicate the disease, Dr Harris said, adding that this was the only way that many countries with different traditions and cultures had managed to "flatten" infection curves.

Low infection rate so far

She noted that globally, tests showed that only around 10 per cent of populations have been infected with the disease, for which there is no vaccine and no approved, effective treatment.

"If you've got huge widespread community transmission which makes you think it's difficult to test everyone, target, work out where you've got closed settings…areas where it's going to go very quickly through", the WHO official insisted, adding that health authorities should continue to communicate useful information about how to avoid infection.

"Find ways to assist people to do the things they need to protect themselves: the handwashing, the social distancing if possible, that is difficult when they live so closely together," she said. "But find other ways and assist them and partner those communities, help them to understand how to help themselves."

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