The World Health Organization chief warned on Monday that the coronavirus pandemic remains a global health emergency, even as a key advisory panel found the outbreak may be nearing an “inflection point” where higher levels of immunity could lower virus-related deaths.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking at the opening of the WHO’s annual executive board meeting, said there is no doubt the world is in a better position now than it was a year ago when the highly transmissible Omicron variant was at its peak.
But Tedros also pointed out that at least 170,000 people have died around the world in connection with the coronavirus in the last eight weeks. He called for fully vaccinating at-risk groups, increased testing, early use of antivirals, expanded lab networks and a fight against misinformation about the pandemic.
Tedros’ comments came as the WHO released findings from its emergency committee on the pandemic. The committee found that about 13.1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally, with nearly 90% of health workers and over 80% of people over 60 years old having completed the first series of shots.
The committee said the pandemic may be approaching an “inflection point,” with higher levels of immunity through vaccination or infection potentially limiting the impact of the virus on morbidity and mortality.
However, the committee also noted that the virus will likely remain a permanently established pathogen in humans and animals for the foreseeable future. The increasing public perception that COVID-19 is not as much of a risk and “pandemic fatigue” have led to people increasingly ignoring health measures like mask-wearing and social distancing, the committee said.
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