The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a worldwide public health emergency over the spread of coronavirus two years ago, but the UN body’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated on Sunday that the pandemic might be finished by 2022.
“On this day two years ago, I declared the Covid-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern to alert the world to this threat. WHO had been sharing advice with countries to help them respond since early January 2020 and we have not stopped since,” said Tedros in a Twitter post.
“This year, we could end the acute phase of the Covid-19 pandemic if we vaccinate 70% of the population of every country, with a focus on the most at-risk groups, and use all strategies and tools in a comprehensive and equitable way,” he added.
The director-general was reiterating the point he has made earlier, when he had cautioned against talk that the pandemic might be entering its “endgame”, warning that conditions remain ripe for new variants to emerge, with vast swathes of unvaccinated people in some countries amid rapid virus transmission.
He had stated on 26 January as well that it might be possible for the world to exit the acute phase of the pandemic, if goals like immunising at least 70% of each country’s population are met later this year.
Earlier this month, the head of emergencies at the WHO, Dr Michael Ryan, had said that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic — deaths, hospitalisations and lockdowns — could be over this year if huge inequities in vaccinations and medicines are addressed quickly.
Speaking during a panel discussion on vaccine inequity hosted by the World Economic Forum, Ryan said “we may never end the virus” because such pandemic viruses “end up becoming part of the ecosystem.”
But “we have a chance to end the public health emergency this year if we do the things that we’ve been talking about,” he said.
WHO has slammed the imbalance in Covid-19 vaccinations between rich and poor countries as a catastrophic moral failure. Fewer than 10% of people in lower-income countries have received even one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Meanwhile, the health body had said on Tuesday that there were 21 million new coronavirus cases reported globally last week, the highest weekly number of Covid-19 cases recorded since the pandemic began.
In its weekly assessment of the pandemic, the WHO said the number of new coronavirus infections rose by 5% and that the rate of increase appears to be slowing; only half of the regions reported an increase in Covid-19.
Earlier this month, the previous highest number of cases — 9.5 million — was recorded amid a 71% spike from the week before, as the hugely contagious Omicron variant swept the world.
According to the WHO, the Middle East saw the largest increase in cases, with a 39 percent increase, followed by Southeast Asia with a 36 percent increase. Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas had a rise in deaths, while other areas saw a decrease.