COVID-19: Towards a New Normality?
As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, the World Health Organization (WHO) is contemplating downgrading it from a public health emergency of international concern to a more familiar status, similar to seasonal influenza. While the coronavirus is still widely circulating around the world, it is now less likely to cause serious illness, as most people have had it at least once, many have been vaccinated multiple times, and the current omicron variants are less virulent than some past variants. However, the WHO stresses that the pandemic is not over yet and that the virus may still evolve and pose new threats.
At a recent press conference, the WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged that we are in a much better position than we have been at any time during the pandemic, but cautioned against complacency. He said that the weekly number of reported deaths in the past four weeks has been lower than when the pandemic was declared in March 2020, but that this positive trend may not continue. He urged countries to maintain or strengthen their public health measures, such as testing, tracing, isolation, physical distancing, ventilation, and mask-wearing, while scaling up their vaccination programs and ensuring equitable access to vaccines and treatments.
Michael Ryan, the WHO’s executive director of health emergencies, also spoke at the press conference and noted that the virus will represent less and less of a threat to society, where surges in virus transmission would not be associated with higher rates of hospital admission. He said that we’ve begun to see that in the last six months, where a surge in infection has not been associated with sustained pressure on the health system, because rates of vaccination are high enough. However, he warned that many countries still had gaps in vaccination coverage and in access to antiviral treatments for those who are medically vulnerable.
A WHO committee has been reviewing the criteria that would mean the threat from COVID-19 could be downgraded and reaching out to experts and stakeholders for feedback. It has proposed three options: keep the current public health emergency of international concern status, downgrade it to a lower level of concern, or remove it from the list altogether. The WHO has emphasized that any decision would be based on scientific evidence and risk assessment, not politics or economics, and would not affect the ongoing response to COVID-19.
Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds and a member of iSAGE, an independent group of scientists, has criticized the WHO’s plans as premature and incomplete. He pointed out that COVID-19 is still putting a huge strain on healthcare systems, causing long-term health impacts, and affecting certain groups more than others, such as children, pregnant women, and people with underlying conditions. He called for more research, transparency, and inclusion in the decision-making process, as well as more support and protection for vulnerable populations.
In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic is a complex and evolving challenge that requires a multifaceted and coordinated response from individuals, communities, and governments worldwide. The WHO’s proposal to downgrade its status from a public health emergency of international concern to a similar level of risk as flu may reflect a realistic assessment of the current situation, but it should not be seen as a reason to lower our guard or abandon our efforts to contain and mitigate the virus. Rather, it should encourage us to continue learning, adapting, and collaborating to overcome this global threat and build a more resilient and equitable world.#Covid19 #threat #expected #par #flu #year