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WHO: Once COVID-19 Case Numbers Go Down, Don't Let Up Precautions


The World Health Organization reported more than 307,000 new worldwide coronavirus cases in one day. It happened on Sunday. That is the highest daily increase the organization has recorded so far. The largest contributors to that surge - Brazil, India and the United States. And right behind that record total was also a warning that Europe will see a surge in cases this fall. All this as the world nears 1 million deaths because of the coronavirus, with close to 200,000 here in the U.S.

We are joined this morning by WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris. Dr. Harris, thanks for being back on the program. We appreciate it.

MARGARET HARRIS: Good morning, Rachel. It's always good to be with you, even when we're talking about something so sobering.

MARTIN: Indeed. So the last time you and I talked, it was the spring, and at that point people were saying, oh, just wait - it's going to die down in the summer. The warmer temperatures are going to help. And I remember you saying, no, no, no, that's not going to happen. This isn't a seasonal thing. But did you expect it to still be this bad?

HARRIS: I certainly hoped it wouldn't. And it's one of those things I really didn't want to be in any way right about. I knew it wasn't seasonal. We know it's not seasonal. But it would have been marvelous if we'd really paid attention to the warnings that - don't relax once you've brought your numbers down; keep suppressing.

MARTIN: So is that behind the warning to Europe that's come out now, that Europe is likely to see a big surge in coming months? Because Europe has started to ease some restrictions. I've got friends in Germany talking about how their kids are all back in school.

HARRIS: Well, so that's what Dr. Kluge, who's our European regional director, was saying - was not that it's inevitable. What he was saying was that, in the winter, you get circulation of other viruses, and generally, people do become more ill from other things. So that would complicate the situation with coronavirus. And he was really saying, pay attention to all the measures now. But opening up the schools is something we do like to see. We want to see it done safely. But you can do it safely if you really are putting all the measures in to keep your entire community safe. You will ensure that your transmission is right down and your children can go to school, which is an essential part of their intellectual but also social development.

MARTIN: So what do you expect this winter? I mean, I know this virus is so unpredictable at points. But, you know, people are going to move inside, and, you know, a lot of folks have gotten used to at least hanging out with, you know, 10 or so people in the backyard. Are you concerned that those gatherings are going to move indoors and that's going to increase people's risk?

HARRIS: Certainly, indoor gatherings with poor ventilation are a huge risk. And we are saying very loudly, watch out for the three C's - avoid crowds, avoid close contact and avoid what you've just mentioned, crowding, close contact in poorly ventilated settings, closed settings. So that's, again, why winter is a concern and why people need to think - and we're talking about building managers. We're talking about office managers. We're talking about all the people who manage the infrastructure of our society. How can we get through our winter safely?

MARTIN: Let's talk about the vaccine, if we could, the prospects of a vaccine. I mean, we still don't even know the long-term effects of COVID-19. We've seen it affect many critical systems in the body - respiratory, pulmonary, cardiovascular, the heart. Are you concerned we still don't have enough information about this virus to effectively come up with a vaccine that will be - that will work?

HARRIS: No, it's - those two are two separate things. So we are indeed learning every day more and more about what this virus is doing in the body. But remember, that's a living thing that's affecting your systems in your body. But what the vaccine does is takes either a little bit of protein or a little bit of genetic material and adds it to something else. So it's not a living thing; it's just a means of tricking your immune system into giving you some protection so that when you meet the real virus, it doesn't have the means of entering your body.

So - but you are quite right that when you test a vaccine, the primary, the paramount thing you should be looking at is safety and safety signals because this - ultimately, if we get a vaccine that works, we want to give it to everybody on the planet. So it's got to be the safest vaccine ever developed.

MARTIN: Do you think we're on track for that? I mean, we heard this news - AstraZeneca, the trial there, they had to pause their vaccine trial because of a reaction by one of the participants. The trial was resumed six days later in Britain, but it's still on hold in the U.S. What does that tell you?

HARRIS: So that's actually a good signal, believe it or not, because that shows that that's a well-managed trial because, as I said, safety should be the primary focus for vaccine clinical trials. So when you have any potentially unexplained illness - and, usually, they are quite separate from what's going on with the vaccine - you need to stop any more enrollment into your trial to ensure that it's not related to the vaccine. And the fact that not only did they do that, but they told everybody what they were doing - they were very transparent about that - that is a good sign, and that shows that good science is being done.

MARTIN: What do you make of Pfizer, the U.S. drugmaker, saying they could have a vaccine ready for distribution by the end of October?

HARRIS: So many, many vaccine-makers and some developers are saying many things. We, as WHO, are looking to see the results...


HARRIS: ...The results of the phase three trials. And that needs to be done in large numbers of people, and you need to have large numbers of people who either receive a placebo, and then you have to look very carefully at the safety signals, very carefully at the efficacy, and then you decide which one. So that's going to take time.

MARTIN: Dr. Margaret Harris of the World Health Organization. She joined us on the line from Geneva. Thank you so much, as always. We appreciate it.

HARRIS: It's a pleasure. And be well. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.