End of COVID pandemic ‘in sight’ – WHO chief

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September 14 (Reuters) – The world has never been in a better position to end the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, his most optimistic view yet on the health crisis that has lasted for years and which has killed more than six million people.

“We are not there yet. But the end is in sight,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters during a virtual press conference.

It is the UN agency’s most optimistic assessment since it declared an international emergency in January 2020 and began describing COVID-19 as a pandemic three months later.

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The virus, which emerged in China in late 2019, has killed nearly 6.5 million people and infected 606 million, upending global economies and overwhelming health systems.

The rollout of vaccines and therapies has helped stem deaths and hospitalizations, and the Omicron variant that emerged late last year causes less severe disease. Deaths from COVID-19 last week were the lowest since March 2020, the UN agency reported.

Also on Wednesday, he again urged nations to maintain vigilance and likened the pandemic to a marathon race.

“Now is the time to race harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.”

Countries need to carefully review their policies and strengthen them for COVID-19 and future viruses, Tedros said. He also urged nations to vaccinate 100% of their high-risk groups and continue testing for the virus.

The WHO said countries must maintain an adequate supply of medical equipment and healthcare workers.

“We expect that there will be future waves of infections, potentially at different times around the world, caused by different Omicron subvariants or even different variants of concern,” said the senior epidemiologist of the WHO, Maria Van Kerkhove.

With over one million deaths this year alone, the pandemic remains an emergency globally and in most countries.

“The summer wave of COVID-19, driven by Omicron BA.4 and BA.5, has shown that the pandemic is not yet over as the virus continues to circulate in Europe and beyond,” a carrier said. word of the European Commission.

The next meeting of WHO experts to decide whether the pandemic still represents a public health emergency of international concern is scheduled for October, a WHO spokesperson said.

WORLD EMERGENCY

“It’s probably fair to say that most of the world is past the emergency phase of pandemic response,” said Dr Michael Head, senior researcher in global health at the University of Southampton.

Governments are now considering how best to manage COVID as part of their routine health care and surveillance, he said.

Europe, the UK and the US have approved vaccines that target the Omicron variant as well as the original virus as countries prepare to launch winter booster campaigns.

In the United States, COVID-19 was initially declared a public health emergency in January 2020, and this status has been renewed quarterly since.

The US Department of Health is expected to renew it in mid-October for what policy experts predict will be the last time before it expires in January 2023.

US health officials have said the pandemic is not over, but the new bivalent vaccines mark an important turning point in the fight against the virus. They predict that a single annual vaccine similar to the flu vaccine should provide a high degree of protection and bring the country closer to normal.

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Reporting by Manas Mishra, Khushi Mandowara in Bengaluru, Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Jennifer Rigby in London; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, William Maclean, Josephine Mason, Elaine Hardcastle

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