Covid-19 pandemic 'acute phase' could end by midyear, says WHO boss - but depends on one condition

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  • The 'acute phase' of the pandemic could end in 2022, but depends on a 70% global vaccination coverage.
  • In low-income countries, only 10.6% has received their first dose.
  • Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus praised SA's transparency when it came to detecting Omicron.

The "acute phase" of the Covid-19 pandemic could end this year if 70% of the world’s population is vaccinated by July, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Friday.

Ghebreyesus was speaking at a media briefing at Stellenbosch University’s Tygerberg Campus following his visit to SA’s vaccine technology transfer hub.

“Our expectation is that the acute phase of this pandemic will end this year, with one condition: 70% vaccination [coverage must be reached] by June–July. If that can be done, the acute phase can really end, and that's what we’re expecting.”

More than 10.3 billion doses of the Covid vaccine have been administered globally. Although nearly 62% of the world's population has received at least one dose, only 10.6% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, according to Our World in Data.

Said Ghebreyesus:

It’s in our hands. It’s not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice. So if the world wants to end it, it has the means to end it.

He went on to say: "The delay in our actions, or in the 70% vaccination rate, will give the virus a chance [to evolve and] for more variants to emerge. And that’s another problem, because then we’re back to another wave. We have all the tools at hand, and we have to deliver.”

SA’s transparency during pandemic

South Africa faced a wave of travel bans from several countries when it announced the detection of the Omicron variant at the end of 2021, but this transparency should have been applauded and not punished, said Ghebreyesus.

“As soon as the world tried to punish you, we said: ‘No, this behaviour should be rewarded, not punished,’” he said, adding:

Identifying variants and reporting them immediately is a behaviour that should be rewarded. And you have done really well. So continue to be transparent and we should also encourage others to do so.

Unprepared for the next pandemic

Scientists from all corners of the globe have repeatedly said that future pandemics are inevitable. But the world isn't ready to prevent or deal with future pandemics, said the WHO chief.

“As a global community, even now, we’re not prepared for another pandemic. We have learned a lot, and we’re relatively better off, but still I would say we’re not prepared,” he said.

Ghebreyesus believed that one of the issues preventing this preparedness was an underinvestment in public health.

“The problem from the start was that – even in high-income countries – the investment in cutting-edge technologies, especially in medicine, was very high. 

“And the world has really progressed a lot in terms of innovation for high-tech medicine, medical interventions, robotics, and so on, while investment in very simple public health is [lacking].”

Ghebreyesus believed that there should be a “revival” of public health. 

He said: “There are simple things that should be done, starting from surveillance, preparedness, early detection, and response – the whole army you need for that should be in place. That’s one area where we need some progress.”

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