End of Covid pandemic ‘in sight’ – WHO chief

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Sept 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 outlook on the health crisis that has killed in years. Six million people.

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

It is the UN agency’s most upbeat 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, shaking global economies and overwhelming health systems.

The release of vaccines and treatments has helped prevent deaths and hospitalizations, and the Omicron variant that appeared late last year causes less severe disease. The UN agency reported last week that deaths from COVID-19 were the lowest since March 2020.

Yet on Wednesday, he again urged countries to maintain their vigilance and compared the pandemic to a marathon race.

“Now is the time to run hard and make sure we cross the border and reap the rewards of our hard work.”

Countries should take a hard look at their policies and strengthen them for Covid-19 and future viruses, Tedros said. He urged countries to vaccinate 100% of high-risk groups and continue testing for the virus.

The WHO said countries should maintain adequate supplies of medical equipment and health personnel.

“We expect that there will be waves of epidemics in the future at different time points around the world caused by different subtypes of Omicron or by different types of concern,” said WHO senior epidemiologist Maria Van Gerkov.

With more than 1 million deaths this year alone, the epidemic is a global emergency and in most countries.

“The COVID-19 summer wave driven by Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 shows that the epidemic is far from over as the virus continues to spread across Europe and beyond,” said a spokesperson for the European Commission.

A WHO spokeswoman said the WHO’s next meeting of experts will be held in October to decide whether the epidemic still represents a public health emergency of international concern.

A global emergency

“It’s fair to say that much of the world is moving beyond the emergency phase of the pandemic response,” said Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton.

Governments are now looking at how to best manage Covid as part of their routine hygiene and surveillance, he said.

Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States have approved vaccines targeting the Omicron variant and 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 the status is updated quarterly.

Before it expires in January 2023, policy experts expect the US Department of Health to renew it in mid-October.

The epidemic is not over, but US health officials have said the new bipolar vaccines represent a major turning point in the fight against the virus. They predict that a single annual vaccine like the flu shot should provide a high level of protection and return the country to normalcy.

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Reporting by Manas Mishra, Khushi Mandowara in Bangalore, Ahmed Abulenin in Washington and Jennifer Rigby in London; Editing Shaunak Dasgupta, William McLean, Josephine Mason, Elaine Hardcastle

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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