With new coronavirus variants appearing on average every four months, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over as major outbreaks spread across Asia.
Mr. Guterres also called on governments and pharmaceutical companies to work together to deliver vaccines to everyone, everywhere.
In a video message “One World Protected – Break COVID Now” for the GAVI COVAX Advance Market Commitment Summit 2022, Mr. Guterres said Friday the meeting is a critical reminder that the “COVID-19 pandemic is far from over”.
“We see 1.5 million new cases every day. Major outbreaks are spreading in Asia. A new wave is sweeping Europe,” he said, adding that some countries are reporting their highest death rates since the start of the pandemic.
He said the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is a “terrible reminder” of how quickly COVID-19 can mutate and spread — especially in the absence of high vaccination coverage.
As some high-income countries prepare for their second booster dose, a third of humanity remains unvaccinated, he lamented.
“This is a brutal indictment of our deeply unequal world. It is also an excellent breeding ground for new variants… more deaths… and more human and economic misery,” he said.
Guterres said the next variation is not a matter of “if” but of “when”.
“We are far from our goal of having every country achieve a 70 percent vaccination rate by the middle of this year. And with new variants appearing on average every four months, time is of the essence,” he said.
He added that governments and pharmaceutical companies must work together to deliver vaccines to everyone, everywhere — not just rich countries.
A new strain of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, first discovered in the United Kingdom, appears to be more transmissible than previous strains of the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) had said.
The WHO said last week that the XE recombinant (BA.1-BA.2) was first detected in the UK on January 19, and more than 600 sequences have been reported and confirmed since then.
“Earlier estimates indicate a 10 percent community growth benefit compared to BA.2. However, this finding requires further confirmation,” the WHO said.
It added that XE belongs to the Omicron variant until significant differences in transmission and disease characteristics, including severity, can be reported.
“WHO continues to closely monitor and assess the public health risk associated with recombinant variants, alongside other SARS-CoV-2 variants, and will provide updates as more evidence becomes available.”
The WHO COVID-19 weekly epidemiological update released this week said that after the increase observed in the first half of March 2022, the number of new COVID-19 cases has fallen for the second consecutive week, with a decline of 16 percent during the week of March 28 through April 3 compared to the previous week.
The number of new weekly deaths also fell sharply (-43 percent) compared to the week before, when an artificial spike in deaths was observed.
More than nine million new cases and more than 26,000 new deaths were reported in the six WHO regions. All regions reported declining trends, both in the number of new weekly cases and in the number of new weekly deaths.
As of April 3, more than 489 million cases and more than 6 million deaths were reported worldwide.
At the country level, the highest number of new weekly cases were reported from South Korea (2,058,375 new cases; down 16 percent), Germany (1,371,270 new cases; down 13 percent), France (959,084 new cases; 13 percent percent increase), Vietnam (796,725 new cases; a 29 percent decrease) and Italy (486,695 new cases; a 3 percent decrease).
The highest number of new weekly deaths were reported in the United States of America (4,435 new deaths; down 10 percent), Russia (2,357 new deaths; down 18 percent), South Korea (2,336 new deaths; down from 5 per decrease), Germany (1,592 new deaths; up 5 percent) and Brazil (1,436 new deaths; down 19 percent).
Guterres noted that the supply of COVID-19 vaccines is not the problem as manufacturers produce 1.5 billion doses per month, and said progress towards vaccine equality is possible, but the window is closing quickly.
“This means countries are delivering on and accelerating dose-sharing and donation commitments to COVAX with better quality supply. And it means strong national vaccine delivery systems are in place – including efforts to combat disinformation against to go and get vaccines in the fight.” He called on countries to secure new funding for the ACT-Accelerator and COVAX this year.
The COVAX facility is the global pooled procurement mechanism for COVID-19 vaccines through which COVAX strives to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for all 190 participating economies, using a WHO allocation framework.
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