May 23, 2022
The head of the World Health Organization said Sunday that the Covid-19 pandemic is "most certainly not over" as he urged continued vigilance against the virus blamed for as many as 15 million excess deaths worldwide.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus' remarks were delivered in Geneva where global delegates gathered for the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly--the health agency's decision-making body.
Tedros repeated his frequent excoriations of Covid-19 vaccine and technology inequality and warnings against prematurely dropping key public health measures meant to contain the virus.
"In many countries, all restrictions have been lifted, and life looks much like it did before the pandemic," he said, framing such moves as ill-advised when the pandemic still has its grips on the globe and new variants and sub-variants continue to emerge.
While welcoming progress on combating the pandemic, including getting over 60% of the world's population vaccinated, he stressed that "it's not over anywhere until it's over everywhere."
"Reported cases are increasing in almost 70 countries in all regions--and this in a world in which testing rates have plummeted," said Tedros. The Ethiopia native further warned that "reported deaths are rising in my continent--the continent with the lowest vaccination coverage."
He likened the virus to "a storm that has torn through communities again and again," whose path and intensity are unpredictable. As such, he said "we lower our guard at our peril."
The more the virus can circulate, the more deaths there will be--"especially among the unvaccinated"--as well as "more risk of a new variant emerging," he said.
"Declining testing and sequencing," said Tedros, "means we are blinding ourselves to the evolution of the virus."
The WHO chief also pointed to the stark difference across the planet in terms of who has received access to vaccines and who has not--a disparity public health campaigners have denounced as vaccine apartheid.
"Almost one billion people in lower-income countries remain unvaccinated," he said, "while only 57 countries have vaccinated 70% of their population--almost all of them high-income countries."
Tedro additionally lamented other major and simultaneous crises including the climate emergency and ongoing war.
"War is bad enough. But it is made worse because it creates the conditions for disease to spread," he said. "The Covid-19 pandemic did not cause the war in Ukraine; and the war did not cause the pandemic."
"But," he added, "they are now intertwined."
Highlighting the theme of this year's assembly meeting, he added: "There can be no health without peace. But equally, there can be no peace without health."
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