On Monday, the director-general of the World Health Organization warned that conditions are still favorable for further coronavirus variations to arise, and that it’s unwise to believe that omicron is the final one or that “we are in the endgame.”
However, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that the pandemic’s acute phase might finish this year provided some critical goals are accomplished.
Tedros outlined a number of accomplishments and problems in global health, including tobacco control, antimicrobial resistance, and the effects of climate change on human health. “Ending the pandemic’s acute phase must remain our joint aim,” he stated.
“There are several options for how the pandemic can unfold and how the acute phase might conclude. But it’s risky to presume that omicron will be the last variety or that we’ve reached the end of the road,” Tedros said at the outset of a WHO executive board meeting this week. “On the contrary, global conditions are excellent for the emergence of new varieties.”
He insisted, however, that “we can end COVID-19 as a global health emergency this year” by meeting goals such as the WHO’s goal of vaccinating 70% of the population of each country by the middle of the year, with a focus on people who are most at risk of COVID-19, and improving testing and sequencing rates to better track the virus and its emerging variants.
According to research, Omicron is less likely to induce serious disease than the prior delta version. Omicron spreads faster than other coronavirus strains and has already taken hold in a number of nations. It also infects persons who have been vaccinated or have been infected by previous versions of the virus more easily.
“We will be living with COVID for the foreseeable future, and we will need to learn to manage it through a sustained and integrated system for acute respiratory infections,” Tedros said, adding that this will assist prepare for future pandemics. “However, learning to live with COVID does not imply that we give the virus a pass. It cannot imply that we tolerate over 50,000 fatalities every week from a disease that is both preventable and curable.”
Tedros also called for the WHO to be strengthened and its budget to be increased in order to assist prevent health disasters.
“Let me put it bluntly: If the existing financing mechanism is maintained, WHO is doomed,” he stated. “The paradigm shift in global health that is now required must be matched by a paradigm shift in global health funding.”
Dr. Hans Kluge, the chief of WHO’s European region, said in a statement that omicron “offers credible promise for stability and normalization,” but added, “Our job is not done.” He was referring to evidence indicating the new variety is associated with less severe illness, despite the fact that it is more transmissible.
He bemoaned “significant differences” in vaccine access, echoing fears expressed by other WHO experts that locations where people are less inoculated may allow the virus to evolve, perhaps leading to new varieties.
Kluge was more upbeat, even though he did say that “new COVID-19 variations will almost certainly develop and reappear.”
“If and when a new variant appears,” he said, “I believe that a new wave could no longer require the return to pandemic-era population-wide lockdowns or similar measures.” He also said that practices like strong surveillance of new variants, high vaccination uptake, regular ventilation of indoor areas, affordable equitable access to antiviral drugs, targeted testing, mask-wearing, and physical distancing, “if and when a new variant appears, I believe that a new wave could no longer require