‘Not necessarily the big one’ WHO warns of probable worse Pandemics to come

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued the warning that worse pandemics could be coming. ‘This is a wake up call,’ said Michael Ryan, WHO emergencies chief. ‘This pandemic… has spread around the world extremely quickly and it has affected every corner of this planet, but this is not necessarily the big one.. We need to get ready for something that may be even more severe in the future.’

‘This pandemic has been severe…. we are into second and third waves of this virus and we are still not prepared to deal with and manage those;’ Ryan stated at the briefing marking a year since the United Nations agency first became aware of the new virus that had started spreading in China. ‘So while we are better prepared.. we are not fully prepared for this one, let alone the next one,’ he acknowledged.

The “fate” of the virus is to become endemic, says David Heymann, the chair of The WHO’s strategic and technical advisory group for infectious hazards. ‘The world has hoped for herd immunity, that somehow transmission would be decreased if enough persons were immune,’ he said as he addressed the WHO’s final briefing for 2020.

Heyman explained however that, the concept of Herd Immunity is misunderstood. ‘It appears the destiny of SARS-Co-V-2 (Covid-19) is to become endemic, as have four other human coronaviruses, and that it will continue to mutate as it reproduces in human cells, especially in areas of more intense admission… Fortunately we have tools to save lives, and these in combination with good public health will permit us to learn to live with Covid-19.’

Ryan also addressed the possible limitations on the vaccines that are starting to roll out against Covid-19. ‘It remains to be seen how well the vaccines are taken up, how close we get to a coverage level that might allow us the opportunity to go for elimination,’ he said. ‘The existence of a vaccine, even at high efficacy is no guarantee of eliminating or eradicating an infectious disease. That is a very high bar for us to be able to get over.’ WHO chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, also said that vaccines would prevent people developing severe disease themselves, but would not necessarily stop them from transmitting the virus to others. ‘I don’t believe we have the evidence on any of the vaccines to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection and therefore being able to pass it on…. So I think we need to assume that people who have been vaccinated also need to take the same precautions,’ she cautioned.

WHO’s briefing comes as cases of the new variant Covid-19 virus have been confirmed in several European countries with Scientists from the Independent Sage group urging that all regions in England should be immediately placed in tier 4 restrictions in an effort to combat the spread of the mutated virus which is reported to be up to 70% more transmissible than its predecessor. Tier 4 restrictions involve the closure of non-essential shops, hairdressers, leisure and entertainment venues.

This approach is supported by teaching unions who have demanded that the government keep schools closed as evidence mounts that the new virus variant is proving to be particularly infectious among children.

Tetras Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general said that the end of 2020 was a time for reflection on the toll the pandemic had taken but also the progress that has been made. He acknowledged the coming year would see new setbacks and new challenges. ‘New ground has been broken not least with the extraordinary cooperation between the private and public sector in this pandemic and in recent weeks, safe and effective vaccine rollout has started in a number of countries which is an incredible scientific achievement,’ he said. ‘This is fantastic but WHO will not rest until those in need everywhere have access to the new vaccines and are protected.’ he promised.

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