The world has seen the lowest number of reported deaths from COVID-19 since March, just as new vaccines built on the Omicron subvariant are being ticked off by national health authorities across the globe.
It’s prompted the head of the World Health Organization to declare “the end of the pandemic is in sight”.
“We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We are not there yet. But the end is in sight,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday local time.
Qualifying his optimistic statement, Dr Tedros noted that governments need to continue to build strategies to manage the pandemic and prevent the further spread of infection.
While declines in deaths and case numbers have been noted, the WHO views its current reported numbers as ‘best cases’ – with under reporting from most governments likely.
Among actions he urged of countries, Tedros called for governments to fully vaccinate all at-risk groups including health workers and older people, continue testing and sequencing for SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses like influenza, and planning for future case surges.
The WHO has confirmed over 600 million COVID-19 cases and almost 6.5 million deaths. A death rate of slightly more than 1%.
Next-generation vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer are currently under observation in many countries (Australia has approved Moderna’s bivalent inoculation). These vaccines are partly ‘built’ on the Omicron BA.1 template, providing a boosted immune response against currently circulating subvariants.
Other WHO experts recommended governments begin scenario planning for future outbreaks of COVID-19, but also other potential disease outbreaks. While the novel coronavirus has occupied the resources of authorities for the past two years, the emergence of two clades (a group of organisms which are considered to have evolved from a common ancestor) of Monkeypox in some parts of the world, demonstrates the need for vigilance against new pathogens.
“I think it’s very prudent for countries to build scenarios for the future,” said WHO Health Emergencies Programme executive director Michael Ryan.
“We are going to have to maintain high levels of vigilance. We still have a highly mutable, evolving virus that has shown us time and time again over two and a half years how it can adapt, how it can change.”
Australia’s case numbers have declined to the lowest level since December. Although fatalities from COVID-19 have decreased, they are still at levels similar to the most recent winter wave.
The WHO will meet in October to determine whether COVID-19 represents a public health emergency of international concern.
Matthew Agius is a science writer for Cosmos Magazine.
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