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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, speaks during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on Feb. 5, 2020.

Salvatore Di Nolfi/The Associated Press

The world is facing a chronic shortage of gowns, masks, gloves and other protective equipment in the fight against a spreading coronavirus epidemic, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.

The UN agency has been sending testing kits, masks, gloves, respirators and gowns to every region, Tedros told the WHO Executive Board in Geneva.

“However the world is facing a chronic shortage of personnel protective equipment, as you might imagine.

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“This afternoon I will be speaking to the pandemic supply chain network to identify the bottlenecks and find solutions and push (for) fairness in distribution of equipment,” he said.

As of 6 a.m. Geneva time (0500 GMT) there were 31,211 confirmed coronavirus cases in China and 637 deaths, as well as 270 cases in 24 other countries with 1 death, Tedros said.

“For the last two days there had been fewer reported infections in China, which is good news, but we caution against reading too much into that. The numbers could go up again,” he said.

During its technical briefing for member states, there was discussion about naming the virus – which emerged in a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December.

WHO has already assigned an interim name of 2019-nCOV (novel coronavirus) acute respiratory disease.

“We thought it very important that we provide an interim name so no location was associated with the name. I’m sure you have seen many media reports that are still calling this, using the name Wuhan or using China,” WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told the board.

“We wanted to ensure that there was no stigma associated with this virus, and so we’ve put out this interim name,” she said.

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Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, said: “I think the bigger point here is to ensure that some of the actions, some of the reactions internationally, it is the responsibility of us all to ensure there is no stigma associated with this disease.

“The unnecessary, unhelpful profiling of individuals based on ethnicity is utterly and completely unacceptable and it needs to stop. Governments have a responsibility to communicate with their populations on this,” Ryan told the board.

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