GENEVA: The Covid-19 pandemic may calm down this year to the point where it poses a flu-like threat World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
The WHO expressed confidence that it would be able to declare the emergency over sometime in 2023 and said it was increasingly optimistic that the pandemic phase of the virus would end.
Last weekend marked three years since the first description by the UN Health Agency the situation as a pandemic – Although WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus claims that countries should have taken action several weeks earlier.
“I think we’re getting to the point where we can look at COVID-19 the same way we look at seasonal flu,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said at a news conference.
“A threat to health, a virus that continues to kill. But a virus that doesn’t disrupt our society or disrupt our hospital systems, and I think it will, as Tedros said this year.”
The head of the WHO said that the world is now in a much better position than at any time 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.
5000 deaths a week
The WHO declared PHEIC – the highest level of alert it can issue – on 30 January 2020, when fewer than 100 cases and no deaths had been reported outside of China.
But it wasn’t until Tedros described the situation as escalating into a pandemic on March 11 of that year that many countries seemed to wake up to the danger.
“Three years later, nearly seven million deaths from COVID-19 have been reported, although we know the actual death toll is much higher.”
He was pleased that for the first time the number of reported weekly deaths in the past four weeks has been lower than when he described COVID-19 as a pandemic.
But he said more than 5,000 deaths a week were 5,000 too many for a disease that can be prevented and treated.
The data will emerge
The first new coronavirus infections were recorded at the end of 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
“While we are becoming increasingly hopeful that the pandemic will end, the question of how it started remains unanswered,” Tedros said as he turned to the recently made public knowledge of the pandemic’s early days.
Data from China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is for samples taken from Huanan Market in Wuhan in 2020.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical director for research on COVID, said they showed molecular evidence that animals were being sold in the market, including animals susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
The data was published in GISAID’s Global Science Initiative database in late January, then taken down again – but not before some researchers downloaded and analyzed it and reported it to the WHO last weekend.
“This information could – and should – have been shared three years ago,” Tedros lamented.
“We continue to urge China to be open about sharing information and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results.”
Van Kerkhove said all theories about where the outbreak started were left on the table.
They include entering the human population through a bat, an intermediate host or a biosecurity breach in a laboratory, he said.