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Two members of WHO staff are infected with coronavirus

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An official from the World Health Organization said today that two staff members have been confirmed as infected with coronavirus.

The body leading the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic said both employees began showing symptoms at home and were then tested.

News of the pair’s diagnosis came as the WHO regional office for Europe said there is a need for bold measures in all European countries, calling the continent the ‘epicentre’ of the new pandemic.

These new WHO cases are the first at the Geneva-based organisation and follow a confirmed case at the UN office in Geneva as well one at the World Trade Organization last week.

It was not clear if the infected staff were working in the coronavirus response.

Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, told a press conference: ‘Every country, with no exceptions, needs to take their boldest actions to stop or slow down the virus threat.

‘Thinking that ‘this does not concern me,’ is not an option,’ Kluge added.

Kluge also said that the ‘good news’ was that the region was ‘alert and on guard,’ noting that ‘preparedness, readiness and response measures’ had been launched in all member states.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, more than 180,000 cases had been confirmed worldwide on Tuesday.

The regional WHO director said that countries need to assess their own situation in order to decide which measures should be emphasised, as the outbreak is progressing at different speeds in different countries.

Speaking after an online meeting of health ministry representatives from across the region in Rome, Kluge said he was ‘very pleased’ to see Britain stepping up its recommendations for social distancing, and urged all countries to work together and learn from each other.

‘Europe is the epicentre of the first pandemic of coronavirus and every country, with no exceptions, needs to take their boldest actions to stop or slow the virus spread,’ Kluge said during an online news briefing for media.

Britain toughened its approach to the outbreak on Monday with moves to close down social life in the world’s fifth largest economy and advice to those over 70 with underlying health problems that they should self-isolate.

Italy, Spain, France, Germany and others have imposed severe lockdowns.

Kluge added that: ‘These are unprecedented times. It is important that countries work together, learn from each other and harmonise the efforts.’

Kluge, whose WHO regional office covers 53 countries from Iceland to Uzbekistan, noted that the COVID-19 outbreak is progressing at different speeds in different countries.

He said this was due to on demographics and other factors, and meant that, broadly, countries were able to be classified in one of four scenarios or states of the outbreak: One – no case; Two – first case; Three – first cluster; Four – first evidence of community transmission.

‘Some of our member states are in scenario 2 and 3, many are in 3 and 4,’ Kluge said. ‘The basic actions in each scenario are the same, but the emphasis changes depending on which transmission scenario a country is in.’

Kluge added that experience of China and others shows that ‘when put in place quickly and effectively’, testing and contact tracing combined with social distancing measures and community mobilisation ‘can prevent infections and save lives’.

On Tuesday the outer borders of the 27-nation European Union and its Schengen passport free zone closed for 30 days.

Faced with the ‘defining global health crisis of our time’, the WHO on Monday called for testing of every suspected case of the new coronavirus.

The WHO headquarters is the workplace for about 2,400 staff and consultants and most are now working from home to reduce possible transmission, Lindmeier said.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told journalists, referring to the official name of the disease caused by the virus: ‘The staff had left the office and then at home showed symptoms and were tested and confirmed with COVID-19.

‘We do therefore have two confirmed cases.’

Switzerland has reported a surge in cases in recent days with over 2,200 cases and passed measures including the mobilisation of 8,000 members of the military late on Monday in an effort to control the outbreak.

Since the outbreak came to light in December there have been more than 60,000 cases in Europe and over 2,400 death.

Global cases has topped 180,000 and more than 7,000 fatalities.

Many countries across Europe went into lockdown as the deepening crisis gripped the continent.

France, Germany and Bulgaria blocked travel even with the free-moving Schengen zone as the EU proposed barring all overseas visitors from entering for 30 days to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Border guards were seen across the continent tonight locking off the crossings between Spain and France, Portugal and Spain, Switzerland and France, and in Germany’s northern coastal states police prepared to block tourism.

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