For most of last year, Covid-19 was on the decline.
But despite clear progress, the threat of Covid-19 persists and every week, approximately 10 000 people die of this disease world-wide.
“The true toll is likely much higher,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) in his 2023 opening remarks at a media briefing on 4 January.
“There are still major inequities in access to testing, treatment, and vaccination and Covid-19 remains a dangerous virus to our health, economies, and societies overall.
“Now into the fourth year of the pandemic, the world is in a much better place than it was several years ago, due to clinical care management, vaccines and treatments,” he remarked.
Vaccination increased across the world, and there was sustained progress in many low and middle-income countries that had been left far behind in 2021 due to vaccine nationalism and manufacturing capacity being restricted to just a handful of countries.
New lifesaving antivirals were identified last year, which helped cut mortality further, and WHO is working to improve access to new antivirals. On Christmas Day it was announced that two such products were prequalified for production by an Indian manufacturer.
“We are concerned about the current Covid-19 epidemiological picture, with both intense transmission in several parts of the world and a recombinant sub-variant spreading quickly.
In the last week, WHO held a high-level meeting with counterparts in China to discuss the surge in cases and hospitalisations, and subsequently WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution and the COVID-19 clinical management expert network groups both met with Chinese experts.
“We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalisations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing.
“WHO is concerned about the risk to life in China and has reiterated the importance of vaccination, including booster doses, to protect against hospitalisation, severe disease, and death.
“With circulation in China so high and comprehensive data not forthcoming – it is understandable that some countries are taking steps they believe will protect their own citizens,” WHO director-general said.
WHO is following closely and assessing the risk of this subvariant and will report accordingly.
“Covid-19 will no doubt still be a major topic of discussion, but I believe and hope that with the right efforts this will be the year the public health emergency officially ends,” Ghebreyesus concluded.
2023 also marks the 75th anniversary of WHO’s creation.