14th April, 2022
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded last week the lowest number of COVID-19 deaths, since the early days of the pandemic.
According to statistics, 4,768 people died on 13 April, cutting the weekly average death toll to 3,281.
Nevertheless, WHO insists the pandemic remains a public health emergency of international concern and the world cannot afford to ‘lose sight’ of the changes in COVID-19 variants.
It warned that lower case numbers and deaths did not necessarily mean ‘lower risk’.
“Our ability to monitor trends is compromised as testing has significantly reduced,” WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus told journalists in Geneva on Wednesday.
Tedros reiterated that higher testing and sequencing rates were vital for scientists to track existing variants and identify new ones as they emerge.
“At present, there are several Omicron sub-lineages we’re following closely, including BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5 and another recombinant detected, made up of BA.1 and BA.2,” he said.
He emphasised that at the moment, the virus remains deadly, especially for the unprotected and unvaccinated who don’t have access to health care and antivirals.
“The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and boosted when recommended.
“Continue wearing masks – especially in crowded indoor spaces. And for the indoors, keep the air fresh by opening windows and doors, and invest in good ventilation,” he urged.
This week, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, which evaluates the global state of the situation with COVID-19, unanimously agreed that the pandemic remains a public health emergency of international concern.
“Far from being the time to drop our guard, this is the moment to work even harder to save lives,” he said, citing the Committee’s decision”.
“This means making sure that COVID-19 tools are equitably distributed and simultaneously strengthening health systems.
“Bridging the vaccine equity gap is the best way to boost population immunity and insulate against future waves,” Ghebreyesus highlighted.
Also speaking, the WHO Lead Epidemiologist, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, said that the latest sub-lineages BA.4 and BA.5 had been reported in several countries, including South Africa and some European nations.
“There are less than 200 sequences available so far and we expect this to change.
“We are tracking (the virus) very closely to see if there is an uptick in case detection, but (so far) we haven’t seen any change in epidemiology or severity,” she said.
The WHO’s Director of Emergencies, Michael Ryan, warned that as the virus evolves, the world “cannot simply afford to lose sight of it”.
“It would be very short-sighted at this point to assume that lower numbers of cases mean absolute lower risks.
“We are pleased to see deaths dropping but this virus has surprised us before, it has caught us off guard before.
“We need to do our jobs and track this virus the best we can, while people go back to live their lives as normally as possible,” Ryan explained.
Meanwhile, WHO’s lead scientist Dr Soumiya Swaminathan, warned that sub-lineages and recombinants will continue to appear, and the world must continue investing in improved tools such as new vaccines.
“We have to be prepared for the possibility that this virus can change so much that it might be able to evade existing immunity,” she said.