The third meeting of the Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), took place on Thursday, 30 April 2020, from 12:00 to 17:45 Geneva time (CEST).
Proceedings of the meeting
Members and advisors of the Emergency Committee were convened by teleconference. Membership of the Emergency Committee was expanded to reflect the nature of the pandemic and the need to include additional areas of expertise.
The Director-General welcomed the Committee, thanked them for their commitment to enhancing global public health, and provided an overview of the major achievements in the COVID-19 response since the last Emergency Committee meeting on 30 January 2020. Representatives of the legal department and the Department of Compliance, Risk Management, and Ethics (CRE) briefed the members on their roles and responsibilities.
The Ethics Officer from CRE provided the members and advisers with an overview of the WHO Declaration of Interest process. The members and advisers were made aware of their individual responsibility to disclose to WHO, in a timely manner, any interests of a personal, professional, financial, intellectual or commercial nature that may give rise to a perceived or direct conflict of interest. They were additionally reminded of their duty to maintain the confidentiality of the meeting discussions and the work of the committee. Only those committee members and advisers who were not considered to have any perceived or direct conflict of interest participated in the meeting.
The Secretariat turned the meeting over to the Chair, Professor Houssin. He also welcomed the Committee and reviewed the objectives and agenda of the meeting.
The WHO Regional Emergency Directors and the Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme (WHE) provided regional and the global situation overview. After ensuing discussion, the Committee unanimously agreed that the outbreak still constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) and offered advice to the Director-General.
The Director-General declared that the outbreak of COVID-19 continues to constitute a PHEIC. He accepted the advice of the Committee to WHO and issued the Committee’s advice to States Parties as Temporary Recommendations under the IHR.
The Emergency Committee will be reconvened within three months or earlier, at the discretion of the Director-General. The Director-General thanked the Committee for its work.
Advice to WHO
Coordination, planning, and monitoring
- Continue to lead and coordinate the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic in collaboration with countries, the United Nations (UN), and other partners.
- Work with fragile states and vulnerable countries that require additional technical, logistical and commodity support.
- Establish mechanisms to compile lessons learned from country and partner experiences and WHO missions and share the best practices and updated recommendations.
- Provide further guidance to countries about adjusting public health measures, taking into account the different epidemiological situations of the pandemic.
- Promote the inclusion of all interested countries, including low- and middle-income countries from all regions, in the Solidarity clinical trials for therapeutics and vaccines.
- Continue efforts with partners to obtain equitable access to personal protective equipment, diagnostics, and biomedical equipment essential to the pandemic COVID-19 response.
- Continue to coordinate global expert networks in epidemiology, laboratory, vaccines, clinical care, infection prevention and control, social sciences, and operational research; modelling; and other technical support.
- Work with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and countries to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts. This should be accomplished through efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions, which will enable targeted interventions and a research agenda to reduce the risk of similar events.
- Work closely with OIE and FAO to provide guidance on how to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections in animals and humans and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs.
- Work with partner organizations and countries to strengthen the global food supply chain, protect food workers, properly manage food markets, and mitigate possible disruptions to the food supply.
Essential Health Services
- Support countries to assess and manage the unintended consequences of public health measures implemented to control the COVID-19 pandemic, including gender-based violence and child neglect.
- Support countries to monitor their ability to provide and strengthen essential health services throughout a likely extended COVID-19 response. This should include, but is not limited to, essential prevention for communicable diseases, particularly vaccination; services related to reproductive health, including care during pregnancy and childbirth; care of vulnerable populations, such as young infants and older adults; provision of medications and supplies for the ongoing management of chronic diseases, including mental health conditions; continuity of critical inpatient therapies; management of emergency health conditions and common acute presentations that require time-sensitive intervention; and auxiliary services, such as basic diagnostic imaging, laboratory services, and blood bank services.
- Support countries to address shortages of essential medicines and health products, personal protective equipment, and other medical supplies and to establish sustainable risk management practices to prevent future shortages.
Risk communication and community engagement
- Continue risk communications and community engagement activities through the WHO Information Network for Epidemics (EPI-WIN) and other platforms to counter rumours and misinformation.
- Continue to regularly communicate clear messages, guidance, and advice about the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, how to reduce transmission, and save lives.
- Work with partners and countries to articulate potential long-term consequences of COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the need for strengthened cross-sectoral preparedness, transparency and global coordination.
- Clarify the testing strategy, support countries to increase testing capacity, and aim to provide equitable access to diagnostic tests and supplies in light of market failures and global shortages.
- Continue to provide guidance on monitoring disease trends using Severe Acute Respiratory Infections (SARI) and Influenza Like Illness (ILI) surveillance systems in anticipation of the co-circulation of influenza viruses.
- Develop qualitative and quantitative indicators that countries can use to assess and monitor SARS-CoV-2 transmission at all levels of public health response.
- Continue to support countries and partners by providing technical and operational guidance, training platforms, and tools such as Go.Data,to enhance case identification and contact tracing capacity, strengthen the public health workforce, and engage communities for contact tracing.
- Provide clear qualitative and quantitative indicators to monitor SARS-CoV-2 transmission to inform the adjustment of public health and social measures.
Travel and Trade
- Continue working with countries and partners to enable essential travel needed for pandemic response, humanitarian relief, repatriation, and cargo operations.
- Develop strategic guidance with partners for the gradual return to normal operations of passenger travel in a coordinated manner that provides appropriate protection when physical distancing is not feasible.
- Update recommendations on appropriate travel measures and analyze their effects on international transmission of COVID-19, with consideration of the balance between benefits and unintended consequences, including entry and exit screening, education of travelers on responsible travel behaviour, case finding, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine, by incorporating evidence on the potential role of pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission.
To all States Parties
Coordination and Collaboration
- Support WHO leadership and continue to collaborate with WHO at all levels of the organization and with other countries to enable effective global COVID-19 pandemic preparedness and response.
- Participate in global solidarity efforts to enable access to essential supplies for all.
- Document and share lessons learned from efforts to control the pandemic, including the timing, pace, and sequencing of the application and lifting of public health measures.
- Strengthen preparedness for health emergencies, and build resilient health systems, incorporating lessons learned during different stages of the pandemic, and sharing experiences with other countries.
- Work with WHO and multisectoral partners to interrupt transmission by maintaining robust surveillance systems; enhancing capacities for case detection, testing, isolation of cases, contact tracing, quarantine of contacts, and rapid response; strengthening the public health workforce; and actively engaging communities for contact tracing, with a particular focus on high risk areas.
- In settings where testing a large proportion of suspected cases is not possible, monitor overall trends; undertake early detection through laboratory confirmation of a limited number of cases with a focus on health workers; and rapidly implement public health measures.
- Share with WHO all data necessary to conduct global risk assessments through data platforms, such as the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System and the IHR mechanism. These data should include SARI and ILI where available.
- Use the WHO qualitative and quantitative indicators to assess and monitor SARS-CoV-2 transmission at all levels of public health response.
Additional Health Measures
- Avoid restrictions on international transport of food, medical and other essential supplies and permit the safe movement of essential personnel required for an effective pandemic response.
- Implement appropriate travel measures with consideration of their public health benefits, including entry and exit screening, education of travelers on responsible travel behaviour, case finding, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine, by incorporating evidence on the potential role of pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission.
- Implement and monitor case finding and contact tracing of travellers, using digital tools where appropriate.
- Continue to review travel and trade measures based on regular risk assessments, transmission patterns at origin and destination, cost-benefit analysis, evolution of the pandemic, and new knowledge of COVID-19.
- Engage in global efforts to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 in managing maritime vessels.
- Do not implement trade restrictions beyond those considered to be of public health importance in accordance with relevant international agreements.
- Continue to provide appropriate public health rationale to WHO for additional health measures in accordance with IHR.
- Prioritize the protection of the health workforce through access to training and provision of personal protective equipment, infection prevention and control measures, improved working conditions, application of WHO recommended testing strategies, and prevention of stigma and attacks on health workers.
- Work with WHO and partners to strengthen the global food supply chain, protect food workers, properly manage food markets, and mitigate possible disruptions to the food supply, especially for vulnerable populations.
- Promote sound practices to manage risks of trade of live animals in food markets and regulate trade of exotic wildlife.
Risk Communications and Community Engagement
- Continue to engage communities to address rumours and misinformation and keep the public informed, with a focus on vulnerable populations.
Research and development
- Address research gaps such as: routes of transmission, including the role of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infection droplet, contact, fomite and aerosol transmission; and viral shedding; and animal source and intermediate hosts, in collaboration with partners.
- Continue to support and conduct COVID-19 research, in line with the WHO Research and Development Blueprint, and the road map for COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics.
- Continue sharing full genome sequences to increase global understanding of virus evolution and phylogenetics and their application to public health practices.
Essential Health Services
- Maintain essential health services throughout a likely extended COVID-19 response. This should include essential prevention for communicable diseases, particularly vaccination; services related to reproductive health, including care during pregnancy and childbirth; care of vulnerable populations, such as young infants and older adults; provision of medications and supplies for the ongoing management of chronic diseases, including mental health conditions; continuity of critical inpatient therapies; management of emergency health conditions and common acute presentations that require time-sensitive intervention; and auxiliary services, such as basic diagnostic imaging, laboratory services, and blood bank services.
- Continue to track and document the impact of COVID-19 on essential health services.