WHO concerned at 'growing perception' that  COVID-19 pandemic is passing
WHO Director-General Tedros GhebreyesusFile photo

WHO concerned at 'growing perception' that COVID-19 pandemic is passing

Geneva, December 5, 2020

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has voiced concern that there is a growing perception that the COVID-19 pandemic is over at a time when many places are witnessing very high transmission of the virus, which is putting enormous pressure on hospitals, intensive care units and health workers.

"The pandemic still has a long a way to run and decisions made by leaders and citizens in the coming days will determine both the course of the virus in the short term and when this pandemic will ultimately end," Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing here on Friday.

He expressed happiness to see that the United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency gave an emergency authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for rollout.

"Just like with the UK’s findings on dexamethasone in the summer, this is an important scientific step for the world as vaccines will be critical in the battle against COVID-19.

"Progress on vaccines gives us all a lift and we can now start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, WHO is concerned that there is a growing perception that the pandemic is over.

"The truth is that at present, many places are witnessing very high transmission of the virus, which is putting enormous pressure on hospitals, intensive care units and health workers," he said.

Ghebreyesus noted that some countries in Europe have managed to reduce transmission of the virus by putting stringent measures in place that limit people from mingling.

"As previously seen, as these measures are lifted, it’s important that people should continue to follow national and local measures to ensure that cases do not rebound.

"Even as vaccines are rolled out, people will need to keep adhering to public health measures so that everyone is protected. We know it’s been a hard year and people are tired, but in hospitals that are running at, or over, capacity; it’s the hardest it can possibly be.

"My personal ask to people is simple, please be careful, think of health workers and act for the greater good, because it will save lives and livelihoods," he said.

The WHO chief also said that, with vaccines now being introduced, it is really important that they are distributed equitably around the world.

"Since GAVI, CEPI and WHO set up the COVAX Facility in April of this year, 189 countries and economies have backed it. WHO is engaged with our partners at all levels, working to boost manufacturing and ensure rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

"A new hundred-hundred initiative - a major sprint by WHO, UNICEF, World Bank, Global Fund and Gavi – aims to help 100 countries conduct rapid readiness assessments and country-specific plans within 100 days for vaccines and other COVID-19 tools.

"First we’re asking all countries to do a country readiness assessment that takes into account cold chain, health worker capacity, micro-planning, initial target populations and training.

"This will form the basis of national deployment and vaccination plans, which will outline how to roll out the COVID-19 vaccines and identify any potential bottlenecks that will need to be planned for.

"For decision makers, this means passing any legislation and policies needed to expedite the process, ensuring the regulatory process is fit for purpose and confirming that the financing is in place," he said.

Ghebreyesus said that the COVAX Facility, which is the vaccine arm of the ACT-Accelerator, intends to provide doses to enable the 189 countries and economies to vaccinate those at highest risk of the virus.

In the first phase of the rollout, sufficient doses will be provided to cover health and social care workers.

As supply increases, vaccines will be rolled out to cover 20 percent of the population of participating countries and economies, which will ensure further high-risk groups are covered.

"The payoff from this will be huge," he said.

Ghebreyesus said new research by the Eurasia group found that the economic benefits of a global equitable vaccine solution alone for just 10 high-income countries would be at least US $ 153 billion in 2020-21, rising to US $ 466 billion US dollars by 2025.

"COVAX has already secured 700 million doses of three vaccines and next year we aim to use additional funds to ensure that at least two billion doses of safe and effective vaccines are available around the world.

"To ensure that this effort becomes a reality, the ACT-Accelerator, urgently requires a cash injection of US $ 4.3 billion to fast-track critical areas of work and ensure that rapid tests, treatments and new vaccines are distributed equitably," he said.

"Equitable distribution is the right choice and the smart choice," he said.

The WHO chief said that, as well as ensuring supply, manufacturing, logistics and funds are all in place, it is important to ensure that leaders communicate with their populations about the importance of vaccination and how and where to get it.

The WHO Technical Advisory Group on Behavioural Insights and Sciences for Health, which is chaired by Professor Cass Sunstein, released a report this week focused on how best to ensure high coverage of new COVID-19 vaccines.

"The report provides initial lessons and recommendations. However, like with everything in this pandemic, we need to learn fast and be ready to quickly adapt our strategies," he said.

"It’s important that all groups have a voice in the future of health and the planet. In this regard, today I am announcing the launch of a WHO Youth Council, which will provide advice on key health and development issues affecting young people.

"COVID-19 has affected young people a great deal, including mental health. The Youth Council will serve as a platform for designing and incubating new initiatives and for maintaining and expanding existing meaningful youth engagement initiatives of WHO. It will work with organizations dealing with the broad spectrum of health issues affecting youth today.

"Young people aren’t just the future, they are the present and we must hear their voice and experience to build the post pandemic world together," Ghebreyesus added.

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