Coronavirus: WHO suspends tests on hydroxychloroquine over safety fears

Mike Ryan warns of second peak and urges countries not to end restrictions too soon

Executive director of WHO’s health emergencies programme Michael Ryan: ‘We need also to be cognisant of the fact that the disease can jump up at any time.’ Photograph: Salvatore di Nolfi/EPA

Executive director of WHO’s health emergencies programme Michael Ryan: ‘We need also to be cognisant of the fact that the disease can jump up at any time.’ Photograph: Salvatore di Nolfi/EPA

 

Countries where coronavirus infections are declining could still face an “immediate second peak” if they let up too soon on measures to halt the outbreak, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.

The organisation also said it was suspending tests on malraria drug hydroxychloroquine because of safety concerns.

The world is still in the middle of the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak, WHO emergencies head Dr Mike Ryan told an online briefing, noting that while cases are declining in many countries they are still increasing in Central and South America, South Asia and Africa.

The Irish man said epidemics often come in waves, which means that outbreaks could come back later this year in places where the first wave has subsided. There was also a chance that infection rates could rise again more quickly if measures to halt the first wave were lifted too soon.

“When we speak about a second wave classically what we often mean is there will be a first wave of the disease by itself, and then it recurs months later. And that may be a reality for many countries in a number of months’ time,” Ryan said.

“But we need also to be cognisant of the fact that the disease can jump up at any time. We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now it is going to keep going down and we are get a number of months to get ready for a second wave. We may get a second peak in this wave.”

He said countries in Europe and North America should “continue to put in place the public health and social measures, the surveillance measures, the testing measures and a comprehensive strategy to ensure that we continue on a downwards trajectory and we don’t have an immediate second peak.”

Hydroxychloroquine

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday it had suspended testing the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in Covid-19 patients due to safety concerns.

Hydroxycholoroquine has been touted by Donald Trump and others as a possible treatment for the disease. The US president has said he was taking the drug to help prevent infection.

“The executive group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity trial while the safety data is reviewed by the data safety monitoring board,” Mr Tedros told an online briefing.

He said the other arms of the trial – a major international initiative to hold clinical tests of potential treatments for the virus – were continuing.

The WHO has previously recommended against using hydroxychloroquine to treat or prevent coronavirus infections, except as part of clinical trials.

Dr Ryan said the decision to suspend trials of hydroxychloroquine had been taken out of “an abundance of caution”. – Reuters