WHO chief says pandemic at ‘critical juncture,’ health emergency could end this year

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 24 (APP):The coronavirus pandemic has reached at “critical juncture,” and if nations work together the global health emergency can end this year, the World Health Organization’s chief said Monday.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it is dangerous to assume that omicron will be the last variant, or that we’re “in the endgame.” Tedros said that 85% of the African population has not received even one dose of vaccine.

“Vaccines alone are not the golden ticket out of the pandemic,” Tedros said. “But there is no path out unless we achieve our shared target of vaccinating 70% of the population of every country by the middle of this year.”

The pandemic has shown that the world must elevate protecting and promoting health as a top priority, Tedros said.

“Health is not a by-product of development, an outcome of prosperous societies, a footnote of history,” he said. “It’s the beat, the foundation, the essential ingredient without which no society can flourish.”

Tedros, who was addressing the WHO’s executive board in Geneva, said since the omicron variant was identified just nine weeks ago, more than 80 million Covid cases had been reported to the WHO — more than reported in the whole of 2020.

Last week, on average 100 cases were reported to the WHO every three seconds, Tedros added, and someone lost their life to the virus every 12 seconds.

While cases have been surging, Tedros noted that the “explosion” in cases had not been matched by a surge in deaths, although fatalities were rising in all regions, particularly in Africa where countries were struggling to access vaccines.

“It is dangerous to assume that omicron will be the last variant or that we’re in the endgame,” Tedros warned. “On the contrary, globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge. To change the course of the pandemic, we must change the conditions that are driving it.”

He added that the world cannot “gamble on a virus whose evolution we cannot control or predict.”

Last week, another top WHO official warned that even though the spread of omicron cases was slowing in some countries, high infection rates around the world would likely lead to new variants by allowing the virus to mutate.