In a press conference on Thursday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made it clear that he believes that COVID-19 remains a global health emergency and that the fight against it requires continued attention and diligence.
“I said that the epidemic is not over, but the end is visible. Both are true,” said Tedros. “Seeing the end does not mean we are at the end.”
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The weekly death toll is now only 10 percent of what it was globally in January 2021 and two-thirds of the world’s population has been vaccinated, including three-quarters of health workers and the elderly, which is a positive sign. , said Tedros.
But 10,000 people still die from the disease every week, and that’s more than 10,000 when these accidents are preventable, he added.
“We’ve spent two and a half years in a long, dark tunnel and we’re starting to see the light at the end … but we’re not there yet.
“We are still in the tunnel, and we will only get to the end by focusing on the road ahead and moving forward with purpose and care.”
The debate over whether the pandemic is still active erupted late last week when US President Joe Biden announced in a Sunday debate that “the pandemic is over.”
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Biden’s comments come after the WHO said last week that the end of the coronavirus pandemic was in sight, pointing to a drop in the number of people dying each week in recent weeks.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, noted on Thursday that the UN agency did not declare COVID-19 as a “pandemic” in February 2020, but declared the virus as a “public health emergency of international concern” countries,” based on the recommendations of the WHO Emergency Committee.
That committee is now in active discussions about what methods should be used to determine if COVID-19 is no longer an emergency, Van Kerkhove said.
“There are many things that should be looked at, and these are still being discussed, looking at what is happening around the world, what is happening in each country with the virus itself with the epidemic,” he said.
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It turns out that there is no official framework that accurately describes how the global pandemic will end, said Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist from Toronto General Hospital.
“You’re not going to get a hard and fast definition, as you’re going to have different people interpret it in different ways.”
However, the WHO published a risk management guidance document in 2017 that focuses on managing influenza pandemics that are “unexpected but recurring events.”
This document, which has been used by many countries, including Canada, as a framework to guide their assessment and response to COVID-19, lists four stages of a global influenza health emergency: pandemic, awareness, pandemic and transition.
In his 2020 book, In Pandemicsepidemiologist and recipient of the Order of Canada David Waltner-Toews notes the WHO document “thinks that whenever we are not in an epidemic, we are in the midst of an epidemic, as we are in the midst of an ice age.”
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“Although they were designed to treat influenza in humans, the WHO classifications can be applied to all infectious diseases,” he wrote in his book.
“There is no phase that is not an epidemic in our future. We have always lived in the midst of plagues and always will. “
Any single country declaring the epidemic “over” is problematic because many countries face different realities when it comes to cases, death rates and the availability of vaccines and antibiotics, Waltner-Toews said in an interview.
“I think what (Biden) is trying to say is that we’ve come out of this state of emergency – everything was closed, borders closed, all these things – we’ve gone into a situation where we need to manage,” he said.
In 2019, the federal government published – and has since updated – a “public health response plan for the ongoing management of COVID-19”, which includes the WHO categories of the epidemic and the broad goals and objectives of each category.
Ottawa has not officially said which of these categories it thinks the country is in at this time, but Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said on Wednesday that he does not believe the epidemic is over.
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“If someone is not sure that the epidemic is over, I invite them to walk past the hospital and see … The COVID is not over so we need to take care not only of yourself, but also of the health workers,” he told reporters in French.
Health Canada added in a federal government statement that Canada “has taken a comprehensive, multi-layered approach to measures informed by available data, practical considerations, scientific evidence and monitoring of the epidemic situation in Canada and internationally.”
It’s fair to admit that Canada is in a better position now, but unnecessary and preventable deaths continue despite Canadians having vaccines that can prevent these effects, said Bogoch.
But Canada, like other countries, has dismantled much of its testing and vaccination infrastructure, which could help bring the country to recovery, he said.
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“During the release of the first vaccine we had for the first and second doses, we bent heaven and earth to put this vaccine in communities that were disproportionately affected by this virus … to bring the vaccine to the people, not to bring the vaccine to the people,” said Bogoch.
“It’s a lot to ask, but if you really want to reduce the suffering of COVID-19, prevent deaths and remove a huge burden from the health care system, especially as we enter the cold winter months in the northern hemisphere, do it.”
Meanwhile, the virus is still widely circulating, volatile and unpredictable, making any declarations of victory difficult, Van Kerkhove said.
“This virus is here to stay and we must manage it properly,” he said.
“We are working to end emergencies in all countries as this is a global problem, we need to end it on a global scale.”
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