The head of the World Health Organization said Thursday that the pandemic could be put to an end in the coming year, but only through global cooperation.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus released statements ahead of New Year’s outlining the organization’s goals for the coming year, and warning against inequities that could prolong the pandemic.
“The end of the year marks the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, representing a poignant reminder of what we have achieved, have gained and have lost as a global community,” Tedros said.
“No country is out of the woods from the pandemic but we have many new tools to prevent and treat COVID-19.”
He highlighted global accomplishments in the fight against the disease, including administering over 8.5 billion vaccine doses, developing new treatments to lower mortality and WHO’s emergency approval for 10 vaccines.
He warned that “narrow nationalism and vaccine hoarding by some countries have undermined equity and created the ideal conditions for the emergence of the Omicron variant.”
“The longer inequity continues, the higher the risks of the virus evolving in ways we can’t prevent or predict,” Tedros said, “If we end inequity, we end the pandemic, and end the global nightmare we have all lived through. And this is possible.”
“As we enter the third year of this pandemic, I’m confident that this will be the year we end it, but only if we do it together.”
He said his organization aimed for a global vaccination rate of 70% by July to end the pandemic. Around 49% of the world is fully vaccinated, and in low income countries, only 8.5% have received at least one dose.
He criticized some nations for conducting “blanket booster” programs, while other states remain largely unvaccinated, and in Africa, three out of four health care workers have not been inoculated. South Africa had a surplus of vaccines before Omicron emerged there, however.
Tedros said that, after two years, we know the virus well, and know how to curb its spread — masks, distancing, hygiene, ventilation, testing and contact tracing.
“With all these learnings and capacities, the opportunity to turn this pandemic around for good is in our grasp,” he said.
The virus has infected over 289 million people, and killed over 5.4 million, since it emerged two years ago. The US leads the world with over 54 million confirmed cases and 825,000 fatalities.
Much of the world held muted New Year’s events on Friday, as the highly contagious Omicron variant cast a pall over celebrations.
The past week saw an average of over 1 million daily infections for the first time since the start of the pandemic, with many countries recording record oubreaks.
A day before his New Year’s message, Tedros said Omicron could cause a “tsunami” of cases that could overwhelm health systems.
Some studies have indicated that Omicron may cause less severe symptoms than previous variants of the virus.