The coronavirus pandemic is by no means over, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed for the umpteenth time on Sunday, as he warned against the easing of measures and public health surveillance.
“This virus has surprised us at every turn – a storm that has torn communities apart again and again, and we still cannot predict its trajectory, nor its intensity,” Tedros said at the opening of the 75th World Assembly of the health in Geneva. “We let our guard down at our peril.”
Cases may be declining around the world, especially since the omicron wave peaked earlier this year, but that doesn’t mean the pandemic is over, he said.
“There is no doubt that we have made progress, of course we have: 60% of the world’s population is vaccinated, which helps reduce hospitalizations and deaths, allows health systems to cope and societies to reopen,” he said. “But it’s not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere.”
Several factors make the world vulnerable, he noted. With testing down and a lack of genetic sequencing, there’s no way to see what the virus is doing, to begin with. And having 1 billion unvaccinated people in low-income countries means almost as many opportunities for more variants to emerge. Testing rates have plummeted, and yet the number of confirmed and registered cases is rising anyway, Tedros said.
“Increased transmission means more deaths, especially among the unvaccinated, and more risk of a new variant emerging,” he said. “The decline in testing and sequencing means we are blinding ourselves to the evolution of the virus.”
Tedros issued a similar warning almost exactly a year ago, in May 2021, calling it a “monumental mistake” to treat the coronavirus pandemic as if it were over at this point.
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In January this year, he again warned that there was no pandemic ‘endgame’, but that there could be an end to the acute phase, if the world met certain key health targets. public.
Since he spoke last May, the death toll has passed 6 million worldwide and 1 million in the United States – and those are just the deaths we know about. The WHO estimate is closer to 15 million.
New omicron variants have indeed emerged, and testing and vaccination have not kept pace, Tedros noted on Sunday. At the same time, people are tearing off masks and flocking to crowded indoor gatherings.
“In many countries, all restrictions have been lifted and life is much like it was before the pandemic,” Tedros said on Sunday. “So it’s over?” No, it’s definitely not over.
Reported cases are rising in nearly 70 countries around the world, even as testing rates have fallen, he said. Only 57 countries, mainly the richest, have vaccinated 70% of their population.
The reasons range from a lack of political will, gaps in operational or financial capacity, and vaccine hesitancy fueled by misinformation and disinformation, he said.
“The pandemic will not magically disappear,” he said. “But we can end it. We have the knowledge. We have the tools. Science has given us the upper hand.