The World Health Organization chief warned Tuesday that it is too early for countries to either declare victory over Covid-19 or give up attempts to halt transmission.
“It is premature for any country to either surrender or to declare victory,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
“This virus is dangerous, and it continues to evolve before our very eyes.”
His comment came as Denmark on Tuesday became the first EU country to lift all of its domestic Covid-19 curbs despite record numbers of cases of the milder Omicron variant, with a number of other countries considering similar moves.
“We’re concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that because of vaccines and because of Omicron’s high transmissibility and lower severity, preventing transmission is no longer possible, and no longer necessary,” Tedros said.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said, stressing that “more Covid-19 transmission means more deaths”.
Tedros pointed out that since Omicron was first spotted in southern Africa 10 weeks ago, nearly 90 million cases have been reported to the WHO – more than in all of 2020.
And while the new Covid variant is known to be milder, he stressed that “we are now starting to see a very worrying increase in deaths in most regions of the world.”
It is vital, he said, to keep striving to halt transmission of the virus.
“We’re concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that because of 💉, and because of Omicron’s high transmissibility and lower severity, preventing transmission is no longer possible, and no longer necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth”-@DrTedros
The WHO leader stressed the need to continue tracking emerging variants, including the Omicron sub-lineage BA.2.
“This virus will continue to evolve, which is why we call on countries to continue testing, surveillance and sequencing,” he said.
“We can’t fight this virus if we don’t know what it’s doing.”
‘Not through peak of Omicron’
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said Tuesday, “We are urging caution because many countries have not gone through the peak of Omicron yet. Many countries have low levels of vaccination coverage with very vulnerable individuals within their populations.”
“And so now is not the time to lift everything all at once. We have always urged, always (be) very cautious, in applying interventions as well as lifting those interventions in a steady and in a slow way, piece by piece. Because this virus is is quite dynamic,” Kerkhove added.
The director of WHO’s health emergencies programme meanwhile urged countries to chart their own path out of the pandemic and not blindly follow others in relaxing measures. Mike Ryan said he feared political pressure may lead some countries to open up prematurely, leading to unnecessary viral transmission and deaths.
“I think it’s a transition phase for many countries, not every country in the same situation. Those countries who are making decisions to open up more broadly, also need to be sure of capacity to reintroduce measures, with community acceptance, if needed,” Ryan said. “So as if we open the doors quickly, you better be very well able to close it very quickly as well.”