Coronavirus: WHO Covid chief warns ‘we’re not out of the woods’ in the fight against the pandemic

  • Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of the WHO’s Covid-19 response, said the virus is here to stay because of global inaction early on
  • ‘In some cities we see ICUs full and people are dying … yet on the streets people are acting like it’s completely over,’ she said
Agence France-Presse |

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Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of the WHO’s Covid-19 response, warned that we’re still only in the middle of the pandemic, and that the virus is likely to stick around due to global inaction early on. Photo: AFP

The World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 chief warned on Tuesday that “We’re not out of the woods” in the fight against the pandemic, even if many people thought it was nearly over.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of the WHO’s Covid-19 response, said 3.1 million known new cases were reported to the United Nations (UN) health agency last week, as well as 54,000 more deaths – though the true numbers would be much higher.

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“The situation is still incredibly dynamic. And it’s dynamic because we do not have control over this virus,” she said during a live presentation on the WHO’s social media channels.

“We’re not out of the woods. We’re very much in the middle of this pandemic. But where in the middle … we’re not quite sure yet, because frankly we’re not using the tools we have right now to get us closer to the end.”

Teachers protest against a mandate requiring all educators be vaccinated in New York City on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. Protests such as these are not uncommon in the US. Photo: TNS

She added: “What I really struggle with is in some cities we see ICUs (intensive care units) and hospitals full and people dying – yet on the streets people are acting like it’s completely over.

“You cannot have it both ways.”

Because of the way the world had handled the crisis, Covid-19 would not be eradicated and was here to stay, she added.

The coronavirus has killed at least 4.8 million people since the outbreak emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

Van Kerkhove said deaths were now largely happening among people who had not been vaccinated.

“From the countries that are providing that information, the rate of hospitalisation and death is by far really among those who are unvaccinated,” she said.

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Van Kerkhove also hit out at Covid-19 misinformation and disinformation circulating on the internet.

“It is resulting in people dying. There is no way to sugar-coat that,” she said.

Van Kerkhove said the WHO was having discussions about the shape of the pandemic over the next three to 18 months.

A health care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in Rome, Italy. A majority of the people falling seriously ill and dying from Covid-19 are unvaccinated. Photo: Reuters

The US expert said she saw Covid-19 eventually coming under control.

“But we will still have pockets of individuals who are not vaccinated – either because they do not have access, they refuse, or they cannot be vaccinated – and we can still see outbreaks,” she said.

Van Kerkhove said the virus was here to stay.

“The possibility to eradicate this virus, or even eliminate this virus at a global level was lost early on,” she said.

“And it was lost because we did not, at a global level, attack this virus as strongly as we could.”

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