The WHO on Friday said that the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects would be felt for decades as its emergency committee assessed the situation six months after sounding its top alarm over the outbreak.
The novel coronavirus has killed more than 679,000 people and infected at least 17.6 million since it emerged in China late last year, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The WHO’s emergency committee, comprising 18 members and 12 advisers, is meeting for the fourth time over the COVID-19 crisis.
“It’s sobering to think that six months ago, when you recommended I declare a public health emergency of international concern [PHEIC], there were less than 100 cases and no deaths outside China,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said as the meeting began.
“The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come,” he said.
The committee can propose new recommendations or amend existing ones.
However, there is little doubt that the WHO will maintain the pandemic’s status as a PHEIC — its highest level of alarm — declared on Jan. 30.
The WHO has been sharply criticized for the length of time it took to declare an international emergency.
The US, which accused the organization of being too close to China, last month officially began its withdrawal from the organization.
The agency has also been criticized for recommendations deemed late or contradictory, in particular on wearing masks, or the modes of transmission of the virus.
“Many scientific questions have been resolved; many remain to be answered,” Tedros said.
“Early results from serology studies are painting a consistent picture: Most of the world’s people remain susceptible to this virus, even in areas that have experienced severe outbreaks,” he said.
“Many countries that believed they were past the worst are now grappling with new outbreaks. Some that were less affected in the earliest weeks are now seeing escalating numbers of cases and deaths. And some that had large outbreaks have brought them under control,” he added.
The highly restrictive lockdowns enforced to deal with the pandemic earlier this year caused economic turmoil and an effective vaccine might be the only long-term solution to the highly contagious respiratory disease.
“Although vaccine development is happening at record speed, we must learn to live with this virus, and we must fight it with the tools we have,” Tedros said.
In related news, two major drug companies are to supply the US government with 100 million doses of an experimental coronavirus vaccine, the US administration said on Friday.
The agreement calls for the US government to pay French drugmaker Sanofi and British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline up to US$2.1 billion to supply it with enough vaccines for 50 million people, with the option to buy another 500 million doses.
COVID-19 deaths in the United States are rising at their fastest rate since early June. About one American died about every minute from COVID-19 on Wednesday.
The EU also announced Friday that it had struck a deal with Sanofi for 300 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm which negotiated the agreement, said it would allow all 27 member countries to purchase the vaccine once it was proven to be safe and effective.
Additional reporting Reuters
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