‘Pandemic can be brought under control within months:’ WHO Chief

By Sayujya S, Desk Reporter
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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Director General WHO

In a recent news briefing, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) opined that the world can bring the global COVID-19 pandemic under control in the coming months provided it distributes the necessary resources fairly.  

“We have the tools to bring this pandemic under control in a matter of months, if we apply them consistently and equitably,” said the head of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

However, he also expressed concern over the “alarming rate” at which COVID-19 is spreading in those aged 25-59 worldwide, possibly due to much more contagious variants. “It took nine months to reach one million deaths; 4 months to reach 2 million, and 3 months to reach 3 million.”

Vaccine nationalism

Global climate change activist Greta Thunberg, joining the briefing as a virtual guest from Sweden, criticized the concept of “vaccine nationalism” and said it was unethical that rich countries were prioritizing their younger citizens for vaccination ahead of vulnerable groups in developing countries.

Ms. Thunberg said that while one in four people in high-income countries had now been vaccinated against COVID-19, only one in more than 500 people in poorer countries had received a shot.

“Vaccine nationalism is what is running the vaccine distribution,” she said. “The only morally right thing to do is to prioritize the people who are most vulnerable, whether they live in a high income or a low income country.”

Environmental destruction

Ms. Thunberg also drew a direct link between the pandemic and the environmental destruction that she said made it much easier for dangerous viruses to leap from animal populations to humans.

“Science shows we will experience more frequent, devastating pandemics unless we drastically change our ways and the ways we treat nature. We are creating ideal conditions for diseases to spill over from one animal to another and to us,” she said.

Ms. Thunberg urged young people everywhere to get vaccinated if given an opportunity, even though they are the age group least at risk from COVID-19, out of “solidarity with people in the (high) risk groups.”

Transmission across all age groups

A leading WHO epidemiologist, Maria van Kerkhove, told the same briefing that the latest surge in COVID-19 infections worldwide included increases among age groups previously less affected by the pandemic.

“We are seeing increased rates of transmission across all age groups,” she said, adding that some 5.2 million cases were reported last week, the highest weekly increase since the start of the pandemic. “We are seeing a slight age shift in some countries, driven by social mixing,” she added.

Related: Oxford University to re-infect recovered COVID-19 patients and study vaccine effectiveness