The WHO sees COVID as posing a similar threat to flu this year

The last COVID-19 test will be taken from a person at a COVID test center in Tiel, on March 17, 2023 before it closes. — AFP

GENEVA: The Covid-19 pandemic could establish itself to a point this year where it poses a threat similar to the flu, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday.

The WHO expressed confidence that it will be able to declare an end to the emergency sometime in 2023, saying it is increasingly hopeful about the end of the pandemic phase of the virus.

Last weekend it was three years ago that the UN health organization first introduced the situation like a pandemic – although WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insists countries should have acted a few weeks earlier.

“I think we’re getting to the point where we can look at COVID-19 in the same way we look at seasonal flu,” WHO emergency director Michael Ryan told a news conference.

“A health threat, a virus that will continue to kill. But a virus that will not disrupt our society or disrupt our hospital systems, and I believe that will come, as Tedros said this year.”

The WHO chief said the world is in much better shape now than it ever was during the pandemic.

“I am confident that this year we can say that COVID-19 is over as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC),” he said.

5,000 deaths a week

The WHO declared a PHEIC — the highest level of alert it can issue — on January 30, 2020, when fewer than 100 cases and no deaths were reported outside China.

But it wasn’t until Tedros described the deteriorating situation as a pandemic on March 11 of that year that many countries seemed to become aware of the danger.

“Three years later, nearly seven million deaths from COVID-19 have been reported, although we know the true number of deaths is much higher.”

He was pleased that the weekly number of reported deaths in the past four weeks was lower for the first time than when he first described COVID-19 as a pandemic.

But he said more than 5,000 reported deaths per week is 5,000 too many for a disease that can be prevented and treated.

Data emerges

The first infections with the new corona virus were registered at the end of 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

“Even as we gain increasing hope about the end of the pandemic, the question of how it started remains unanswered,” Tedros said, turning to address data recently coming to light about the early days of the pandemic.

The data, from China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, relates to samples taken in Wuhan’s Huanan Market in 2020.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID, said they had molecular evidence of animals being sold on the market, including animals susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. caused 19.

The information was published in the GISAID Global Science Initiative database at the end of January and then removed again – but not before some scientists downloaded and analyzed it and notified the WHO over the weekend.

“This data could have been shared – and should have been – three years ago,” Tedros lamented.

“We continue to call on China to be transparent in sharing data, conduct necessary investigations and share the results.”

Van Kerkhove said all theories about where the outbreak started remain on the table.

They include entering the human population via a bat, an intermediate host animal or via a biosecurity breach in a laboratory, she said.

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