COVID-19 ending soon is ‘unrealistic’, says World Health Organization official

GENEVA – A senior World Health Organization official said Monday it was “premature” and “unrealistic” to think that the pandemic could be stopped before the end of the year, but that the recent arrival of effective vaccines could at least help drastically reduce hospitalizations and death.

The world’s singular focus at this time should be to keep the transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible, said Dr. Michael Ryan, director of the WHO emergency program.

“If we are smart, we can end the hospitalizations and deaths and the tragedy associated with this pandemic” by the end of the year, he told a news conference.

Ryan said the WHO was reassured by emerging data that many of the licensed vaccines appear to be helping slow the explosive spread of the virus.

“If vaccines begin to have an impact not only on death and not only on hospitalization, but have a significant impact on the dynamics of transmission and the risk of transmission, then I think we will accelerate towards the control of this pandemic.”

But Ryan cautioned against complacency, saying nothing was guaranteed in an evolving epidemic.

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“Right now, the virus has a lot of control,” he said.

Meanwhile, the WHO director-general said it was “regrettable” that younger, healthier adults in some wealthy countries are being vaccinated against the coronavirus before at-risk health workers in developing countries.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said immunizations provided by the UN-backed COVAX effort began this week in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, but regretted that this happened just three months after countries like Britain, the United States and Canada began vaccinating their own populations.

“Countries do not compete with each other,” he said. “This is a common race against the virus. We are not asking countries to put their own people at risk. We are asking all countries to be part of a global effort to suppress the virus everywhere.”

But the WHO stopped short of criticizing countries that are moving to vaccinate younger, healthier populations rather than donating their doses to countries that have yet to protect their most vulnerable people.

“We cannot tell every country what to do,” said Dr Bruce Aylward, WHO senior adviser.

Tedros also noted that, for the first time in seven weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases increased last week, after six consecutive weeks of declining numbers. He described the increase as “disappointing” but said it was not surprising.

Tedros said the WHO was working to better understand why the cases increased, but that part of that increase appeared to be due to “relaxation of public health measures.”


AP medical writer Maria Cheng reported from London.

Copyright © 2021 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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