The COVID-19 pandemic could be over this year if inequalities in vaccination roll-outs and treatment programmes are addressed, according to the head of emergencies at the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Michael Ryan that although the coronavirus may never end, there was a chance the worst was over and that it could become a “part of the ecosystem.”
“We have a chance to end the public health emergency this year if we do the things that we’ve been talking about,” Ryan said.
“What we need to do is get to low levels of disease incidence with maximum vaccination of our populations, so nobody has to die.”
His comments come as the head of the WHO nonetheless issued a warning to world leaders that the coronavirus pandemic “is nowhere near over”.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (pic) cautioned against the assumption that the newly dominant Omicron variant is significantly milder and has eliminated the threat posed by the virus.
His intervention comes as some European nations saw record new case numbers. France reported nearly half a million new daily cases on Tuesday, for example, while for the first time since the start of the pandemic, more than 100,000 new infections were recorded in Germany within 24 hours on Wednesday.
Speaking during a news conference at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, Dr Tedros told reporters that the Omicron variant had led to 18 million new infections across the world over the past week.
While the variant may prove to be less severe on average, “the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” he said.
“Make no mistake, Omicron is causing hospitalisations and deaths, and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities.”
He warned global leaders that “with the incredible growth of Omicron globally, new variants are likely to emerge, which is why tracking and assessment remain critical”.
“I remain particularly concerned about many countries that have low vaccination rates, as people are many times more at risk of severe illness and death if they are unvaccinated,” he added.
New coronavirus infections have been growing across Europe as the new Omicron variant takes hold across the continent.
In Denmark, officials reported a record 33,493 new daily cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, while health authorities in Italy recorded 228,179 new infections, up from 83,403 the previous day. In Germany, the incidence rate of cases per 100,000 people also climbed to a new high of 584.4 over the past week.
France meanwhile reported 464,769 new daily infections on Tuesday, more than four times higher than Monday’s figure of 102,144 and a daily record for the pandemic. Infections have now climbed past a weekly average of over 300,000 new cases per day.