Health

End of COVID pandemic is ‘in sight’ – WHO chief

End of COVID pandemic is ‘in sight’ – WHO chief
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Sept. 14 (Reuters) – The world has never been in a better position to end the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday, his most optimistic view yet of the years-long health crisis that has left more than six million people.

“We’re not there yet. But the end is in sight,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters during a virtual press conference.

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That was the UN agency’s most optimistic assessment since declaring the international emergency in January 2020 and beginning to describe COVID-19 as a pandemic three months later.

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The virus, which emerged in China in late 2019, has killed nearly 6.5 million people and infected 606 million, overwhelming global economies and healthcare systems.

The rollout of vaccines and therapies has helped reduce deaths and hospitalizations, and the Omicron variant that emerged late last year causes less severe illness. The number of deaths from COVID-19 last week was the lowest since March 2020, the UN agency reported.

Still on Wednesday, he again urged countries to remain vigilant, comparing the pandemic to a marathon race.

“Now is the time to run faster and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.”

Countries should review and strengthen their policies for COVID-19 and future viruses, Tedros said. He also urged countries to vaccinate 100% of their risk groups and continue testing for the virus.

The WHO said countries should provide adequate medical equipment and health workers.

“We expect there will be future waves of infections, possibly at different times around the world, caused by different sub-variants of Omicron or even different variants of care,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, senior epidemiologist at WHO.

With more than 1 million dead this year alone, the pandemic remains an emergency worldwide and in most countries.

“The COVID-19 summer wave, powered by Omicron BA.4 and BA.5, showed that the pandemic is not over yet as the virus continues to circulate in Europe and beyond,” said a European Commission spokesperson.

The next meeting of WHO experts to decide whether the pandemic still constitutes a public health emergency of international concern is scheduled for October, a WHO spokesman said.

GLOBAL EMERGENCY

“It’s probably fair to say that most of the world is moving past the emergency phase of the pandemic response,” said Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University.

Governments are now looking at how best to manage COVID as part of their routine health care and surveillance, he said.

Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States have approved vaccines targeting both the Omicron variant and the parent virus, as countries prepare to launch winter booster campaigns.

In the United States, COVID-19 was initially declared a public health emergency in January 2020, and that status has been renewed quarterly since.

The US health department will renew it in mid-October, as what policy experts expect will be the last before it expires in January 2023.

US health officials have said the pandemic is not over, but new bivalent vaccines represent a major shift in the fight against the virus. They predict that an annual vaccine, similar to the flu shot, should provide a high level of protection and bring the country closer to normality.

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Reporting by Manas Mishra, Khushi Mandowara in Bengaluru, Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Jennifer Rigby in London; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, William Maclean, Josephine Mason, Elaine Hardcastle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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