By Haruna Gimba
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says almost 500 million people have been infected with the coronavirus since March 2020, and new variants are still a threat as it marks two years of declaring COVID-19 a pandemic.
Last Friday marks two years since WHO characterised the global spread of COVID-19 as a pandemic.
The UN health agency’s assessment was made six weeks after the virus was declared a global health emergency when there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths outside China.
Two years later, more than six million people have died.
“Although reported cases and deaths are declining globally, and several countries have lifted restrictions, the pandemic is far from over – and it will not be over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” WHO Director General, Tedros Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.
Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Ghebreyesus reminded the world that many countries in Asia and the Pacific are currently facing surges of cases and deaths.
“The virus continues to evolve, and we continue to face major obstacles in distributing vaccines, tests and treatments everywhere they are needed,” he said.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement on Wednesday supporting the WHO chief’s assessment, that it would be ‘a grave mistake’ to think the virus was now in the rear-view mirror.
Guterres reiterated that the distribution of vaccines remains “scandalously unequal”.
“Manufacturers are producing 1.5 billion doses per month, but nearly three billion people are still waiting for their first shot”, he highlighted.
The UN chief blamed this “failure” on policy and budgetary decisions that prioritise the health of people in wealthy countries, over the health of people in poor countries.
“This is a moral indictment of our world. It is also a recipe for more variants, more lockdowns and more sorrow and sacrifice in every country. Our world cannot afford a two-tier recovery from COVID-19”, he said.
Guterres added that in spite of the numerous other global crises, the world must reach the goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of people in all countries by the middle of this year.
“Science and solidarity have proven to be an unbeatable combination. We must re-dedicate ourselves to ending this pandemic for all people and all countries, and closing this sad chapter in humanity’s history, once and for all,” he said.
The WHO’s chief also expressed his concern over the ‘drastic reduction’ of testing in several countries.
“This inhibits our ability to see where the virus is, how it’s spreading and how it’s evolving,” he warned