WHO says COVID end is ‘in sight,’ deaths at lowest level since March 2020
The head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday that the number of COVID-19 deaths worldwide last week was the lowest reported since March 2020, marking what could be a turning point in the years-long pandemic.
At a media briefing in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world has never been in a better position to stop COVID-19.
“We are not there yet, but the end is in sight,” he said, comparing the effort to that made by a marathon runner nearing the finish line.
“Now is the worst time to stop running,” he said. “Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap all the rewards of our hard work.”
In its weekly report on the pandemic, the U.N. health agency said COVID-19 deaths fell by 22% in the past week, to just over 11,000 reported worldwide. There were 3.1 million new cases, a drop of 28% that continued a weeks-long decline in every part of the world.
Still, the WHO warned that relaxed coronavirus testing and surveillance in many countries means that many cases are going unnoticed. The agency issued a set of policy briefs for governments to strengthen their efforts against the coronavirus ahead of the expected winter surge of COVID-19, warning that new variants could yet undo the progress made to date.
An experimental COVID-19 vaccine aims to get ahead of new variants by priming the immune system to recognize a stable part of the coronavirus.
“If we don’t take this opportunity now, we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption, and more uncertainty,” Tedros said.
The WHO reported that the Omicron subvariant BA.5 continues to dominate globally and comprised nearly 90% of virus samples shared with the world’s biggest public database. In recent weeks, regulatory authorities in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere have cleared tweaked vaccines that target both the original coronavirus and Omicron variants, including BA.5.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said the organization expected future waves of the disease, but was hopeful those would not cause many deaths.