World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus has expressed optimism that the COVID-19 pandemic will end in 2022.
Mr Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing on Wednesday that it was two years ago, as people gathered for New Year’s Eve celebrations, that a new global threat emerged.
Since then, 1.8 million deaths have been recorded in 2020 and 3.5 million in 2021, but the actual number is much higher. There are also millions of people dealing with long-term consequences from the virus.
Delta and Omicron are driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalisation and deaths.
Mr Ghebreyesus added that he was “highly concerned” that the more transmissible Omicron, circulating simultaneously as Delta, is leading to “a tsunami of cases.”
Earlier in 2020, during meetings of the world’s biggest economies – the G7 and G20 – WHO challenged leaders to vaccinate 40 per cent of their populations by the end of 2021 and 70 per cent by the middle of 2022.
With only a couple of days left in the year, 92 out of 194 member states missed the target.
He attributed this to low-income countries receiving a limited supply for most of the year and then subsequent vaccines arriving close to expiry, without key parts, like syringes.
“Forty per cent was doable. It’s not only a moral shame. It cost lives and provided the virus with opportunities to circulate unchecked and mutate,” he said.
WHO chief warned that boosters in rich countries could cause low-income countries to again fall short and called on leaders of wealthy countries and manufacturers to work together to reach the 70 per cent goal by July.
“This is the time to rise above short-term nationalism and protect populations and economies against future variants by ending global vaccine inequity,” added the WHO boss. “We have 185 days to the finish line of achieving 70 per cent by the start of July 2022. And the clock starts now.”
The WHO director-general acknowledged that beating the new health threat would require science, solutions, and solidarity.