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COVID-19 still a public health emergency: WHO

COVID-19 is still a public health emergency of international concern, notwithstanding progress that has been made in the fight against the pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

To date, over 562 million cases of COVID-19 including at least 6, 37 million deaths have been recorded globally since the pandemic hit the world in late 2019.

In Zimbabwe 256, 000 cases including 5, 566 deaths have so far been recorded.

“I am concerned that cases of COVID-19 continue to rise – putting further pressure on stretched health systems and health workers,” said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus while briefing the media recently.

“I am also concerned about the increasing trend of deaths. The Emergency Committee on COVID-19 met on Friday last week and concluded that the virus remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The Committee noted their concern about several interlinked challenges.”

The WHO chief said sub-variants of Omicron, like BA.4 and BA.5, continue to drive waves of cases, hospitalisation and death around the world.

“Second, surveillance has reduced significantly – including testing and sequencing – making it increasingly difficult to assess the impact of variants on transmission, disease characteristics, and the effectiveness of counter-measures,” said Ghebreyesus.

“Third, diagnostics, treatments and vaccines are not being deployed effectively. The virus is running freely and countries are not effectively managing the disease burden based on their capacity, in terms of both hospitalisation for acute cases and the expanding number of people with the post-covid-19 condition – often referred to as long-COVID.”

Ghebreyesus went to say there is a major disconnect in COVID-19 risk perception between scientific communities, political leaders and the general public.

“This is a dual challenge of communicating risk and building community trust in health tools and public health social measures like masking, distancing and ventilation,” he said.

“The Committee made a series of recommendations with several that I want to focus on. New waves of the virus demonstrate again that COVID-19 is nowhere near over.  As the virus pushes at us, we must push back. We’re in a much better position than at the beginning of the pandemic. Of course, there’s been a lot of progress. We have safe and effective tools that prevent infections, hospitalizations and deaths. However, we should not take them for granted.”

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