The world can end COVID-19 as a global health emergency this year, but it’s dangerous to assume “we are in the endgame”, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.
WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the acute phase of the pandemic could be over in 2022 — if some key targets were met.
But he warned that conditions still remained ideal globally for more variants to develop and he urged a target of all nations having 70 per cent vaccine coverage by mid-year.
Dr Tedros said “ending the acute phase of the pandemic must remain our collective priority”.
“There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out and how the acute phase could end,” he said.
“But it’s dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the endgame.
“On the contrary, globally, the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.”
But he insisted that “we can end COVID-19 as a global health emergency, and we can do it this year”.
This could be done by reaching goals such as the WHO’s 70 per cent vaccine target, with a focus on the most at-risk people, and improving ways to track the virus and its emerging variants more closely.
“It’s true that we will be living with COVID for the foreseeable future and that we will need to learn to manage it through a sustained and integrated system for acute respiratory diseases” to help prepare for future pandemics, he said.
“But learning to live with COVID cannot mean that we give this virus a free ride. It cannot mean that we accept almost 50,000 deaths a week from a preventable and treatable disease.”
In stark terms, Dr Tedros also appealed for strengthening of the WHO and increasing funding for it to help stave off health crises.
“Let me put it plainly: If the current funding model continues, WHO is being set up to fail. The paradigm shift in world health that is needed now must be matched by a paradigm shift in funding the world’s health organisation.”
Dr Tedros’ comments come as Australia marked exactly two years since its first confirmed case of COVID-19 amid optimism Omicron outbreaks have peaked across several states.
Tuesday marks two years since Australia confirmed its first COVID-19 infection — on January 25, 2020 — in a man who flew from China to Melbourne.
The country recorded a cumulative 40,681 new infections and 58 additional deaths on Monday.
But there is optimism daily infection tallies have plateaued, particularly in NSW.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt declared infections had peaked in NSW, Victoria, the ACT and South Australia.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant also expressed optimism the virus spread in that state appeared to be slowing and the situation stabilising.
It reported 15,091 new cases and 24 deaths on Monday, while Victoria recorded 11,695 infections and 17 deaths.
Another 13 people died in Queensland, which reported 10,212 new cases.
In South Australia, there were 2009 cases and two deaths. The ACT recorded 756 cases and two deaths.
There were 619 new cases in Tasmania, 286 in the Northern Territory and 13 in Western Australia.