(AP) — The World Health Organization has an unwelcome but potentially life-saving message for the holiday season: Don’t hug. To stop the spread of the coronavirus, WHO’s emergencies chief said Monday that the “shocking” rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths, particularly in the U.S., means that people shouldn’t get too close to their loved ones this year.


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“The epidemic in the U.S. is punishing. It’s widespread,” said Dr. Michael Ryan. “It’s quite frankly, shocking, to see one to two persons a minute die in the U.S. — a country with a wonderful, strong health system (and) amazing technological capacities,” he said. At the moment, the U.S. accounts for a third of all COVID-19 cases in the world, Ryan added.

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According to Johns Hopkins University, the country has recorded more than 280,000 coronavirus deaths to date. Ryan was responding to a question during a news conference about whether hugs could be considered “close contact” — which the U.N. health agency has generally advised against in areas of high coronavirus transmission.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said most transmission happens among people who tend to spend a lot of time together sharing meals and indoor spaces, in workplaces or homes — but it’s sometimes hard to “disentangle” how exactly the virus was spread. Added Ryan: “It’s a horrible thing to think that we would be here as the World Health Organization saying to people, ‘Don’t hug each other.’ It’s terrible.” READ MORE

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