The response to the pandemic should not stop such health services as immunisation and treatment of acute and chronic diseases that affect millions of people in the region, said Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific.
"If we allow Covid-19 to disrupt immunization programmes, our region could face a new crisis at a time when health systems are already strained," he said in briefing from the WHO Western Pacific regional office in Manila.
Kasai noted that when vaccination rates go down, infectious diseases that have long been under control, or even eliminated, surge or return, citing new cases of polio and outbreaks of measles across the region last year.
Millions of people also need care and treatment for acute and chronic conditions such as tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, hypertension, diabetes, cancer and heart diseases.
"We cannot let the Covid-19 response put their lives at risk by compromising these services," Kasai said.
Kasai also urged Asia-Pacific governments not to be complacent in efforts to contain the coronavirus and to consider long-term responses to balance health needs with those of the economy and society.
"This is not the time to relax," he said. "Instead, we need to ready ourselves for a new way of living in the foreseeable future."
"As long as the new coronavirus is circulating, no country is safe from potentially overwhelming outbreaks," Kasai added.
The Western Pacific region, which covers 27 countries in Asia and the Pacific, has so far confirmed 130,000 coronavirus cases and more than 5,600 deaths, according to the WHO.
Though lockdowns across the region have succeeded preventing widespread community transmission, Kasai said countries must not rush to lift restrictions too soon, which could lead to another spike in cases.
He noted that to move forward, health systems and strategies to stem transmission of the virus must adapt and evolve.
"At least until a vaccine or a very effective treatment is found, this process will need to become our new normal," he said.
Citizens must take responsibility for protecting themselves, their family, friends and community by practicing social distancing, washing their hands and staying away from others when they are sick, he added.
Private companies should also adapt new ways of working such as employees working from home to minimise risks, while governments must prepare for the the worst case: large-scale community transmission. - dpa