By Maria Cheng and JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press
Geneva (AP) – The World Health Organization has registered 65 cases of coronovirus among employees at its headquarters, including five people who worked on campus and were in contact with each other, an internal email obtained by The Associated Press .
The United Nations health agency said it is investigating how and where the five people became infected – and has not determined whether the transmission occurred at its offices. The WHO confirmed the figures in an email Monday for the first time when it publicly gave such a count.
The head of the agency, Drs. Michael Ryan told reporters on Monday that the AP on an internal email told “according to my information, the investigation of the cluster is the first evidence of a possible broadcast on the WHO’s site.”
The email stated that half of the infections recorded so far were among those who were working from home. But there were 32 employees working on the premises in the headquarters building, where more than 2,000 people usually work, and the agency says it has strict sanitation, screening and other preventive measures.
In the email, which was sent to employees on Friday, Raul Thomas, who leads the operations of the business at WHO, noted that five people – four on the same team and those who had contact with them – had posted COVID-19’s Tested positive for This may indicate that basic infection control and social removal processes have broken down.
“We have some cases which are related to the campus. We have some cases from the past week that have been linked together, ”Maria Van Kerkhov, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, confirmed Monday.
In related cases, she said: “There are possible ways they were infected outside the premises. So we are still conducting an epidemic investigation with that.”
Two weeks ago, Van Kerkhov said that there was no broadcast at that point at headquarters, but said that the agency was monitoring it. The WHO, which is coordinating the global response to the epidemic, previously stated that staff were infected but never provided a number or description.
“According to standard protocol, these colleagues are receiving the necessary medical attention and recovering at home,” the email said on Friday. “These last five cases bring the total number of affected members of the Geneva-based workforce to 65 since the onset of the epidemic.”
According to the email, 49 of the total cases occurred in the last eight weeks, “thus much more according to the situation being reported in Geneva and surrounding areas.” He said that “a high number of cases among those who have become obsolete for telecom”. The timing of the other 16 cases was not clear.
The revelation occurs in Europe, the host country Switzerland, and especially in the city of Geneva amidst a spurt of cases.
The email did not specify who was infected, but a WHO employee with direct knowledge of the situation who spoke on the anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press said The five related cases include the leadership of the Director General of WHO, a team that is also an infection control specialist.
Thomas’ email was sent after concerns were raised by other WHO officials that those in contact with the group were still working in the Geneva building and potentially exposing others to COVID-19, The employee said.
The senior manager reportedly held several in-person meetings at the WHO in early November before testing positive last week. The person contacted by the AP referred all comments to the WHO media office.
“We are not yet established whether the transmission has occurred on campus, but are looking into the matter,” WHO spokesman Farah Dakhlalla said in an email to the AP.
The WHO has faced repeated criticism of dealing with the epidemic. US President Donald Trump accused the UN agency of “colluding” with China to hide the extent of the initial outbreak. In June, the AP found that the WHO publicly praised China for its speed and transparency, even as WHO officials in private meetings were disappointed that the country was sitting on releasing critical outbreak information.
Advanced measures to “reduce our risk profile” were considered in emails received by AP.
“Ultimately, members of the workforce are reminded that physical meetings, including gatherings in common areas or cafeterias, are strongly discouraged and should only take place where necessary.”
Elsewhere in Geneva, restaurants are among the many public spaces that have been closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Last month, Thomas told WHO employees that the agency was limiting access to its Geneva headquarters, which included key staff including senior directors, their assistants and management officers. “All members of the workforce are reminded to always have proper hygiene, respect the standards of physical disturbances (at least one meter) and wear masks when possible,” he wrote.
In normal times, an estimated 2,400 people regularly work at the WHO’s seven-story headquarters that overlook Geneva. As the epidemic has spread in the area, employees have been encouraged to work from home when possible. Non-employee visitors are required to wear masks, and access to the building is barred.
And ahead of the WHO’s week-long meeting of its member states last week – which was mostly virtual – employees were told in an internal email to take extra precautions, including wearing masks in public places.
From a sprawling meeting room at the headquarters on Monday, WHO Director General Tedros Adnom Ghebayeus and other officials were attending a session of the agency’s latest executive board meeting, largely organized by video conference. He was returning home from a two-week self-quarantine after coming in contact with a person who tested positive. Because Tedros himself did not show any symptoms, he was not tested for COVID-19, but meticulously stayed at home.
Cheng reported from London.
Follow AP Epidemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This content may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.