The head of the World Health Organization on Thursday scaled back his claim that the end of the Covid-19 pandemic is near, warning that declaring a crisis is “still a long way off”.
Last week, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that the world “has never been in a better position to end the epidemic… the end is in sight.” And US President Joe Biden went further in an interview broadcast on Sunday, declaring that the pandemic is “over” in the US.
But speaking to the media from the sidelines of the UN General Session in New York on Thursday, Tedros appeared less upbeat, clarifying that “seeing the end does not mean we are at the end”. He reiterated that the world was in the best position to end the pandemic, with weekly deaths continuing to decline – and now only 10 percent of what they peaked in January 2021.
Tedros noted that two-thirds of the world’s population has been vaccinated, including three-quarters of health workers and the elderly. “We’ve spent two and a half years in a long, dark tunnel and we’re starting to see a glimmer of light at the end of that tunnel,” he said.
But, he stressed, “It’s still far, and the tunnel is still dark, with many obstacles that could trip us up if we’re not careful.” “We’re still in the tunnel.”
In its latest epidemiological update, the WHO said more than 9,800 deaths were reported last week, 17 percent less than a week earlier, when 3.2 million new cases were reported. The UN health agency has warned that the drop in reported cases is deceptive, as many countries have stopped testing and may not detect less severe cases.
WHO’s technical lead for Covid, Maria van Kerkhove, said the virus was still “circulating at an intense level” although the situation varied in different countries. But he noted that the world has the necessary tools to curb the spread.
“Our aim is to end the state of emergency in all countries. And we will continue to do so until we reach that goal,” he said.
Since the start of the pandemic, the WHO has tallied more than 609 million cases and about 6.5 million deaths, although the true number is believed to be considerably higher. A WHO study published in May estimated that 17 million people could die from Covid in 2020 and 2021, based on the excess deaths seen in different countries during the pandemic.
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