The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the world is at a ‘defining moment’ of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appealed to individuals to follow social distancing rules, and for governments to support people, as he urged fair distribution of coronavirus vaccines, and prioritisation of frontline workers.
Dr Ghebreyesus told a media briefing on Friday that the WHO emergency committee had met on Thursday to discuss the continued pandemic.
He said: “It will come as no surprise to you that variants and vaccines were heavily discussed as well as the current epidemiological situation.
“Some countries in Europe, Africa and the Americas are seeing spikes in cases with multiple factors driving transmission risk.
“This is because we are collectively not succeeding at breaking the chains of transmission at the community level or within households.”
Ghebreyesus said countries need to “close the gap between intent and implementation of restrictions at the country and individual level because at present there’s immense pressure on hospitals and health workers”.
He said: “With almost two million deaths, and new variants appearing in multiple countries, the emergency committee emphasised the need for governments to do all they can to curb infections through tried and tested public health measures.
“The more the virus is suppressed, the less opportunity it has to mutate.
“There is only one way out of this storm and that is to share the tools we have and commit to use them together.”
In the UK a total of 1,564 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test was reported on Wednesday, the highest daily amount since the pandemic began.
The government has recorded more than 86,000 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, though figures compiled by the PA news agency suggest more than 100,000 can be linked to coronavirus.
A programme that aims to give everyone over 70 and those extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 a dose of a vaccine by mid-February has been rolled out across the UK.
However, Ghebreyesus said that distribution of vaccines needed to be addressed to ensure that frontline workers in the health system in all countries were prioritised for protection.
He said: “Health workers are exhausted, health systems are stretched and we’re seeing supplies of oxygen run dangerously low in some countries.
“Now is the time we must pull together as common humanity and rollout vaccines to health workers and those at highest risk.
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“This is key to saving lives, protecting health systems and driving a fair recovery.”
Members of WHO echoed Ghebreyesus’ pleas. Executive director of WHO’s emergencies programme, Michael Ryan, told the briefing: “The virus is exploiting our lack of tactical commitment, our fatigue.
“The vaccine is light at the end of the tunnel but it doesn't address these issues. It's about protecting those who are most vulnerable - our frontline workers.”
Ryan also dismissed the idea that the emergence of new variants of coronavirus was to blame for the continued spread of the virus.
He said: “"It's not new variants driving transmission, it's too easy to lay the blame on the variants.
“It's also what we didn't do that's to blame, it's our responsibility for the virus getting out of control.”
Concluding his speech, the director general emphasised his commitment to ensuring that the most vulnerable are given access to coronavirus vaccines.
“I will keep repeating this over and over again during the coming weeks,” he said. “I want to see vaccination underway in every country in the next 100 days so that health workers and those at high-risk are protected first.
“I am looking forward to the executive board next week and working with manufacturers and countries to ensure that vaccine supply is available and distributed equitably around the world.”
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