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COVID-19 Health Emergency Could be Over this Year, WHO says



If large discrepancies in vaccinations and treatments are addressed soon, the worst of the coronavirus epidemic — deaths, hospitalizations, and lockdowns — could be resolved this year, according to the WHO's head of emergencies.


Dr. Michael Ryan, speaking during a panel discussion on vaccine inequity hosted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), said “we may never end the virus” because such pandemic viruses “end up becoming part of the ecosystem”. But “we have a chance to end the public health emergency this year if we do the things that we've been talking about”, he said.


WHO has slammed the imbalance in COVID-19 vaccinations between rich and poor countries as a catastrophic moral failure. Fewer than 10% of people in lower-income countries have received even one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.


“We have a chance to end the public health emergency this year if we do the things that we've been talking about,” Dr. Michael Ryan said


Dr. Ryan told the virtual gathering of world and business leaders that if vaccines and other tools aren't shared fairly, the tragedy of the virus, which has so far killed more than 5.5 million people worldwide, would continue.


“What we need to do is get to low levels of disease incidence with maximum vaccination of our populations, so nobody has to die,” Dr. Ryan said. “The issue is: It's the death. It's the hospitalizations. It's the disruption of our social, economic, political systems that's caused the tragedy — not the virus." Dr. Ryan also waded into the growing debate about whether COVID-19 should be considered endemic, a label some countries like Spain have called for to better help live with the virus, or still a pandemic — involving intensified measures that many countries have taken to fight the spread.


“Endemic malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people; endemic HIV; endemic violence in our inner cities. Endemic in itself does not mean good. Endemic just means it's here forever," he said.


COVID-19 is unlikely to be eradicated, according to public health professionals, and it will continue to kill people, albeit at much lower levels, even after it becomes endemic.


Gabriela Bucher, executive director of the anti-poverty organisation Oxfam International, spoke about the "enormous urgency" of more equitable vaccine distribution and the necessity for large-scale production. She claimed that resources to fight the pandemic were being "hoarded by a few companies and a few shareholders," and that the "total collapse of global cooperation and solidarity" over the last two years was "totally unacceptable." John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, decried the "total collapse of global cooperation and solidarity," saying it was "totally unacceptable" that so few people in Africa had received vaccine shots. His agency says only 10% of Africa's 1.2 billion people are fully vaccinated.


He also sought to douse the belief among some that vaccine hesitancy is widespread in Africa, citing studies that say 80% of Africans were ready to get shots if the vaccines were available.


The comments came on the second day of the online alternative to the annual World Economic Forum gathering, which was postponed over pandemic health concerns.


In speeches at the event, world leaders like Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett discussed approaches to the pandemic. He said his country, which quickly rolled out a widespread vaccination campaign, has a strategy of being “at the forefront of the medicines and the vaccines” against COVID-19.


According to Israel's Health Ministry, 62 percent of the population is completely vaccinated, including booster doses.


"We want to be first in the world to know how vaccines and new variations respond to one another," Mr. Bennett said, citing advanced research in Israel. Fumio Kishida, Japan's prime minister, stated that his country's immunisation rates are high because society places a high importance on safeguarding the old and defenceless. He intends to maintain strict border controls until the end of February.


He said he was trying to balance restrictions with keeping the economy open but that a “zero COVID policy against the omicron variant is not possible nor appropriate.” In a separate press briefing on Tuesday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the omicron variant “continues to sweep the world,” adding there were 18 million new COVID-19 cases reported last week.





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