Coronavirus: ‘Blood on your hands’ if world steps back on tackling Covid now, WHO warns
- Richer nations must tackle Covid-19 as a global problem now, ahead of future potential waves of infection, a WHO senior adviser warned
- The number of people testing positive for Covid-19 has increased in England and Wales for the first time in two months
If rich nations think the pandemic is over, they should help lower-income countries reach that point too, a senior World Health Organization official said.
In an interview, WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward warned that richer nations must not step back from tackling Covid-19 as a global problem now, ahead of future potential waves of infection.
In the last few weeks, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the end of the pandemic was in sight, and US President Joe Biden said the pandemic was over.
“When I hear them say, ‘Well, we’re so comfortable here,’ it’s like, ‘Great, now you can really help us get the rest of the world done’,” said Aylward.
Aylward said that the group he coordinates, which focuses on equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and tests worldwide, is not yet ready to move out of the emergency phase of tackling the pandemic and that countries need to be ready and have treatments in place for any further waves of infection.
“If you go to sleep right now and this wave hits us in three months … God – blood on your hands,” he said.
He also stressed that Biden had a point domestically as the United States has good access to all Covid-19 tools. It has also not cut its global commitment to fighting coronavirus, he added.
Aylward coordinates the ACT-Accelerator, a partnership between WHO and other global health bodies to help poorer countries access Covid-19 tools. The effort, which includes the vaccine-focused COVAX, has reached billions of people worldwide but has faced criticism for not acting quickly enough. There had been some speculation that the effort may wind up this autumn, but Aylward said it was simply changing its focus as the pandemic changes.
Over the next six months, the partnership will aim particularly at delivering vaccines to the roughly one quarter of the world’s healthcare workers and elderly who have still not had a shot, as well as on improving access to test-and-treat, particularly with Pfizer’s Paxlovid, he said.
It will also look to the future as Covid is “here to stay”, and unless systems are put in place, support will collapse once other industrialised nations also think the pandemic is over, said Aylward.
The initiative already has an US$11 billion gap in its budget, with most of its available US$5.7 billion in funding pledged towards vaccines rather than tests or treatments.
World Health Organization’s announcement comes as the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 has increased in England and Wales for the first time in two months.
The results are based on data for the week ending September 14 from the government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), which estimated that the number of people testing positive in England was 766,500 – amounting to around one in 70 people – and in Wales 39,700, or one in 75.
The previous week’s survey found infection rates were one in 75 in England and one in 110 in Wales. According to the long-running survey, both these UK countries last saw a week-on-week increase in the week ending July 6, fuelled by the new Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants.
At the same time, figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland went down.
The results come from a survey in which a random sample of the population is swabbed – whether they have symptoms. Those tested do not include people living in care homes. Researchers then model these results to estimate how many of the total population is currently infected.
Two Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and B. A5, have partly driven a wave of new cases of the disease in Europe and the United States.