Coronavirus: Global situation

Pandemic can be brought under control in months: WHO chief

He says this rests on distributing resources fairly; shows concern over rate of spread for aged 25-59

GENEVA • The world can bring the global Covid-19 pandemic under control in the coming months provided it distributes the necessary resources fairly, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) told a news briefing on Monday.

Global climate change activist Greta Thunberg, joining the briefing as a virtual guest from Sweden, took a swipe at "vaccine nationalism" and said it was unethical that rich countries were prioritising their younger citizens for vaccination ahead of vulnerable groups in developing countries.

"We have the tools to bring this pandemic under control in a matter of months, if we apply them consistently and equitably," said WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

However, he also expressed concern over the "alarming rate" at which Covid-19 is spreading in those aged 25-59 worldwide, possibly due to much more contagious variants. "It took nine months to reach one million deaths; four months to reach two million, and three months to reach three million."

Ms Thunberg said that whereas one in four people in high-income countries had now been vaccinated against Covid-19, only one in more than 500 people in poorer countries had received a shot.

"Vaccine nationalism is what is running the vaccine distribution," she said. "The only morally right thing to do is to prioritise the people who are most vulnerable, whether they live in a high income or a low income country."

Ms Thunberg also drew a direct link between the pandemic and the environmental destruction that she said made it much easier for dangerous viruses to leap from animal populations to humans.

"Science shows we will experience more frequent, devastating pandemics unless we drastically change our ways and the ways we treat nature... We are creating ideal conditions for diseases to spill over from one animal to another and to us," she said.

WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove told the briefing that the latest surge in Covid-19 infections worldwide included increases among age groups previously less affected by the pandemic.

"We are seeing increased rates of transmission across all age groups," she said, adding that some 5.2 million cases were reported last week, the highest weekly increase since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the WHO's emergency committee said on Monday it was against international travellers being required to have proof of vaccination, partly on grounds such a measure would deepen inequities.

"Do not require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, given the limited (although growing) evidence about the performance of vaccines in reducing transmission and the persistent inequity in the global vaccine distribution," the committee said in a statement summarising its April 15 meeting that was published on Monday.

"States Parties are strongly encouraged to acknowledge the potential for requirements of proof of vaccination to deepen inequities and promote differential freedom of movement," it said.

The group's recommendation comes as numerous countries are mulling over launching vaccine passports for travellers and also for other activities including sports. The idea, however, has met with criticism, with many saying it would lead to discrimination between young and old as well as rich and poor. Some have also raised privacy concerns.

Already, European Union member states have agreed on vaccine certificates while China has launched its own certification.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2021, with the headline Pandemic can be brought under control in months: WHO chief. Subscribe