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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Covid pandemic ‘most certainly not over’, warns WHO chief

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The Covid-19 pandemic is “most certainly not over”, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned, despite a decline in reported cases since the peak of the Omicron wave.

The UN health agency’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told officials gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, for the opening of the WHO’s annual meeting that “we lower our guard at our peril”.

He said “declining testing and sequencing means we are blinding ourselves to the evolution of the virus”, and noted that almost one billion people in lower-income countries had still not been vaccinated.

In a weekly report on the global situation on Thursday, the WHO said the number of new Covid-19 cases appeared to have stabilised after weeks of decline since late March, while the overall number of weekly deaths had dropped.

While there had been progress, with 60% of the world’s population vaccinated, “it’s not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere”, Dr Tedros said.

“Reported cases are increasing in almost 70 countries in all regions, and this in a world in which testing rates have plummeted,” he added.

Reported deaths were rising in Africa, the continent with the lowest vaccination coverage, he said, and only 57 countries — almost all of them wealthy — had vaccinated 70% of their people.

While the world’s vaccine supply had improved, there was “insufficient political commitment to roll out vaccines” in some countries, and gaps in “operational or financial capacity” in others, he said.

“In all, we see vaccine hesitancy driven by misinformation and disinformation,” Dr Tedros said.

“The pandemic will not magically disappear, but we can end it.”

Dr Tedros is expected to be appointed for a second five-year term this week at the World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of the WHO’s member countries.

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