The global health crisis of COVID-19 is not yet over, says the World Health Organization, but determining how to measure the end of the pandemic is not a simple equation, according to experts.
During a briefing on Thursday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made it clear that he believes that COVID-19 remains an urgent global health threat and that combating it requires continued attention and diligence.
“I said that the pandemic is not over, but the end is in sight. Both are true,” said Tedros. “Just because we can see the end doesn’t mean we’re at the end.”
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The number of weekly deaths is now just 10 percent of what it was at the global peak in January 2021, and two-thirds of the world’s population has now been vaccinated, including three-quarters of health workers and the elderly, all positive signs, Tedros said.
But 10,000 people still die from the disease every week, and that’s 10,000 too many when those deaths are preventable, he added.
“We’ve spent two and a half years in a long, dark tunnel and we’re just beginning to see the light at the end… but we’re not there yet.
“We are still in the tunnel and we will only get to the end if we focus on the road ahead and if we move forward with purpose and care.”
The debate over whether the pandemic is still active was sparked at the end of last week when US President Joe Biden declared in an interview on Sunday that the “pandemic is over”.
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Biden’s comments came after the WHO said last week that the end of the coronavirus pandemic was in sight, pointing to a global decrease in the number of weekly deaths in recent weeks.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, noted Thursday that the UN agency did not actually declare COVID-19 a “pandemic” in February 2020, but rather declared the virus a “public health emergency of international concern.” , based on the recommendation of the WHO Emergency Committee.
That committee is now actively discussing what criteria should be used to decide when COVID-19 is no longer an emergency, Van Kerkhove said.
“There are a number of factors that need to be taken into account, and they are still being debated, looking at what’s happening globally, what’s happening in each country with the virus itself and the epidemiology,” she said.
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It turns out that there is no official overview of how to accurately determine the end of a global pandemic, says Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital.
“You’re not going to get a hard and fast definition, like you’re going to have different people defining it in different ways.”
However, the WHO published a risk management guidance document in 2017 aimed at how to manage influenza pandemics, which it says are “unpredictable but recurring events”.
The document, which has been used by a number of countries, including Canada, as a framework to guide risk assessment and response to COVID-19, outlines four phases of the global influenza health crisis: interpandemic, alert, pandemic and transition.
In his 2020 book. About pandemicsepidemiologist and Order of Canada David Waltner-Toews notes that this WHO document “assumes that whenever we are not in a pandemic, we are between pandemics, like we are between ice ages.”
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“Although designed to treat influenza in humans, the World Health Organization stages can be applied to all infectious diseases,” he wrote in his book.
“There is no phase in our future without a pandemic. We have always lived between pandemics and always will.”
It’s problematic for any country to declare this particular pandemic “over” because multiple countries face different realities when it comes to active cases, death rates and the availability of vaccines and antivirals, Waltner-Toews said in an interview.
“I think what (Biden) is trying to say is that we’ve gone from this emergency situation — everything is closed, the borders are closed, all those things — to a situation where we have to manage it,” he said.
In 2019, the federal government released — and has since updated — a document on a “public health response plan for the ongoing management of COVID-19,” which included the WHO’s stages of the pandemic and broad goals and objectives for each stage.
Ottawa has not officially said which of these stages it believes the country is currently in, but Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Wednesday he does not believe the pandemic is over yet.
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“If someone is not sure if the pandemic is over, I invite them to walk around the hospital and see… COVID is not over yet, so we have to take care not only of ourselves, but also of health workers,” he told reporters in French.
Health Canada added in a statement that the federal government of Canada “has taken a comprehensive, layered approach with measures based on available data, operational considerations, scientific evidence and monitoring of the epidemiological situation in Canada and internationally.”
It’s fair to admit that Canada is now in a more positive position, but there are still unnecessary and preventable deaths even though Canadians have vaccines that can prevent these outcomes, Bogoch said.
But Canada, like other countries, has phased out much of its testing and vaccine infrastructure, which could help further the country’s recovery, he said.
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“During the first release of the vaccine that we had for doses one and two, we put heaven and earth together to put the vaccine in communities that were disproportionately affected by the virus … bringing the vaccine to the people, not bringing the vaccine to the people,” Bogoch said.
“It’s a lot to ask, but if you really want to alleviate suffering from COVID-19, prevent death and also take a significant burden off the health care system, especially as we enter the colder winter months in the northern hemisphere, do it.”
Meanwhile, the virus is still widely circulating, constantly mutating and remains unpredictable, making any declarations of victory difficult, Van Kerkhove said.
“This virus is here to stay and we must manage it responsibly,” she said.
“We are working to end the state of emergency in every country because this is a global problem, we have to end this globally.”
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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