Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, gave the update at a news conference on Friday in Geneva.

According to him, 5,000 people have lost their lives to the virus, describing it as “ a tragic milestone.

Europe has now become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China.

“More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic.

“We are encouraged that many countries are now acting on the eight pillars of WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

“Most countries now have a national plan; most are taking a multi-sectoral approach and most have laboratory testing capacity.’’

The director general said WHO had evidence-based guidance that every country could use, according to each of the eight pillars.

“And we are continuing to support countries to prepare and respond.

“We have shipped supplies of personal protective/equipment to 56 countries, we are shipping to a further 28 countries, and we have sent almost 1.5 million diagnostic tests to 120 countries.

“Our message to countries continues to be: you must take a comprehensive approach.

“Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all.

“Any country that looks at the experience of other countries with large epidemics and thinks “that won’t happen to us” is making a deadly mistake. It can happen to any country,’’ he said.

Ghebreyesus said the experience of China, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and others clearly demonstrated that aggressive testing and contact tracing, combined with social distancing measures and community mobilisation could prevent infections and save lives.

He said Japan was also demonstrating that a whole-of-government approach led by Prime Minister Abe himself, supported by in-depth investigation of clusters, was a critical step in reducing transmission.

According to him, WHO has clear advice for governments, businesses and individuals.

First, prepare and be ready and every person must know the signs and symptoms and how to protect themselves and others.

“Every health worker should be able to recognize this disease, provide care and know what to do with their patients.

“Every health facility should be ready to cope with large numbers of patients, and ensure the safety of staff and patients.

“Second, detect, protect and treat.

“You cannot fight a virus if you do not know where it is. Find, isolate, test and treat every case, to break the chains of transmission.

“Every case we find and treat limits the expansion of the disease.’’

He gave the third advice as reduction of transmission, saying “Do not just let this fire burn.

“Isolate the sick and quarantine their contacts. In addition, measures that increase social distancing such as cancelling sporting events may help to reduce transmission.

“These measures, of course, should be based on local context and risk assessment, and should be time-limited.

“Even if you cannot stop transmission, you can slow it down and save lives,’’ he said

In addition, he advised countries to be innovative and to learn.

This is a new virus and a new situation. We are all learning, and we must all find new ways to prevent infections, save lives, and minimise impact. All countries have lessons to share.

“There are simple, effective things we can all do to reduce the risk of infection for ourselves and those around us.’’

Meanwhile, the director general acknowledged that COVID-19 had captured the world’s attention, saying“ there are still many other health issues people continue to face every single day, and that WHO is continuing to work on.

Babies are still being born. Essential surgery is continuing. People still need emergency care after road traffic crashes. People still need treatment for cancer, diabetes, HIV, malaria and many other diseases.

“And for all of these, we need health workers. Today, I want to send a personal and sincere thank you to every health worker around the world.

“Health workers – especially nurses and midwives, who we are celebrating this year through the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

“You do a heroic job. We know that this crisis is putting a huge burden on you and your families. We know you are stretched to the limit.

“You have our admiration, our respect, and our commitment to doing everything we can to keep you safe and enable you to do your job,’’ he said.