Covid circumstances are falling, however unequal vaccine entry threatens world restoration, WHO says
Worldwide Covid-19 cases are declining, but the uneven distribution of life-saving vaccines could prolong the global economic recovery and leave developing countries even further behind, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
In the week ending January 31, 3.7 million new global coronavirus cases were reported, a 13% decrease from the previous week. This emerges from the latest WHO situation report. Covid-19 deaths, which are a few weeks behind new cases, saw a slight 1% decrease over the week.
That’s good news when you consider that 5.5 million cases are injured each week worldwide, but more than 3 million new infections are “still a lot of people,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.
“The rain has subsided, but the sun isn’t shining yet,” Ryan said during a live Q&A session at the agency’s Geneva headquarters.
Health experts have warned that new, highly infectious variants of the virus, first identified in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, could already add fuel to furious outbreaks in countries around the world.
A faster transmitting virus could lead to more infections and would ultimately lead to more hospitalizations and deaths if it spreads uncontrollably. But even in areas where the variants have emerged, cases are declining, said Maria Van Kerkhove, director of the WHO’s Department of Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis.
In Great Britain, which identified variant B.1.1.7 in December, cases have decreased by 31% compared to the previous week, according to a WHO report. In South Africa, where a similar variant called B.1.351 was also discovered late last year, cases fell by 44%, the report said.
“This is important because people are scared when they hear mutations, mutants and variants,” said Kerkhove. “We can’t let go of our guard. We can’t let go.”
The emergence of new coronavirus variants did not surprise scientists, as it is normal for viruses to mutate as they spread. Experts fear that some of the strains, particularly variant B.1.351 found in South Africa, could pose a risk to the effectiveness of the vaccines and therapeutics currently available.
Drug makers have claimed that their shots should continue to work against the new variants, but health experts have stressed the importance of containing the spread of the virus to prevent further mutations while countries provide primary care with Covid-19 vaccines .
However, not all countries have had equal access to life-saving medicines.
Of the countries that have started dosed doses to their residents, most were in higher-income countries that claimed early delivery of vials through their own delivery agreements, warned WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
That’s a problem because the vaccines will eventually allow countries to reopen their economies without the risk of an increase in hospital stays and deaths from the virus, Ryan said Wednesday. WHO has voted for countries to sign up for COVAX, a global alliance they jointly lead and aim to deliver coronavirus vaccines to the world’s poorest countries.
The program hopes to deliver 2.3 billion cans by the end of this year. Earlier Wednesday, COVAX officials announced that they had so far provided at least 330 million doses to poorer countries, which are expected to be delivered in late February or early March. These early doses would be used to vaccinate the most vulnerable, such as healthcare workers.
Ryan said this would allow countries to reopen their economies without worrying about putting more strain on their hospital systems. However, this will only be possible if “we can deliver the minimum number of vaccine doses to all countries”.
“If we want our societies to be open, if we want to be on the path to normalizing and normalizing our way of life, we have to be fair in how we distribute the funds to live normally,” said Ryan. “Right now, the uneven distribution of vaccines means that not all societies have an equal chance to get back online, and that’s just not fair.”
– CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt and Reuters contributed to this report.