People must make their own risk assessments about Covid-19 using information on local transmission rates, a leading health official has said.

Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organisation’s health emergencies programme, said while governments can guide people’s choices and provide them with information, it is down to individual behaviours which “facilitate disease transmission”.

It follows a row in the UK over the availability of local testing data.

He told a press briefing in Geneva: “Every person needs to look at their own risk – you need to know what the transmission in my area is… and not just rely on the information from governments.

“We are – by nature, by evolution – risk managers as individuals. And I think we’re intelligent and we’re able to do that – what we need is the information to make those risk-based decisions.

“We need to gain the knowledge to be able to make good decisions – we decide on our proximity to other individuals, we decide on the intensity of our social engagement, we decide how long we spend in that environment.

“We can be advised by government, we can be advised by science. But in the end, this comes down to personal motivation and personal choice. Governments, scientists have to support communities with the information.

“There is an element of government responsibility here and it is real, and this is very important. But there’s also an issue of individual responsibility and taking control and managing our own risks.”

It comes as the global health body said that there has been more than 506,000 deaths and 10.3 million cases worldwide – with 60 per cent of all cases confirmed in the past month.

Director general of the WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that countries should expect local “flare-ups”.

“But countries that have the systems in place to apply a comprehensive approach should be able to contain these flare-ups locally and avoid reintroducing widespread restrictions,” he said.

Health leaders were also asked about other viruses which have “pandemic potential” – particularly a strain of flu carried by pigs in China highlighted in a recent study.

Officials stressed that the virus is “not new” and the virus had been under surveillance for “many years”.

But Dr Ryan said the new report highlights the “vital importance” of surveillance.

He continued: “[This] shows the vital importance of the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, the WHO Collaborating Centre network – who keep these viruses under constant surveillance. There are many, many, many avian flu and influenza viruses out there that have pandemic potential. We learned that in 2009, where a pandemic emerged in the Americas.

“And we constantly need to stay on the alert, we need to continue to carry out very good surveillance on this.

“But again it’s important I think to reassure people that this is not a new virus – this is a virus that is under surveillance, we are concerned with any viruses that show potential to infect humans. And we will continue with our Collaborating Centres and the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System to keep this virus under close surveillance.”

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