Covid is a test and world is failing: WHO chief

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Tokyo: As Japan goes ahead with Olympics 2021, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday said that the coronavirus pandemic is a test in which the world is failing.

The pandemic could have been under control by now, if vaccines that were “meant to douse the flames of the pandemic” were allocated more equitably, Ghebreyesus said in his keynote speech at the 138th International Olympic Committee Session.

“The distortion in the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines has exposed and amplified the searing inequalities that have stained human history for aeons, and which imperil our future,” he lamented.

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“The pandemic is a test. And the world is failing. More than 4 million people have died, and more continue to die. Already this year, the number of deaths is more than double last year’s total,” Ghebreyesus said.

He noted that the global failure to share vaccines, tests, and treatments — including oxygen — is fuelling a two-track pandemic: the haves are opening up, while the have-nots are locking down.

Moreover, even after 19 months of the pandemic, and seven months since the first vaccines were approved only 1 per cent of people in low income countries have received at least one dose, compared with more than half of people in high-income countries.

About 75 per cent of the vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries. Some of the richest countries are now talking about third booster shots for their populations, while health workers, older people and other vulnerable groups in the rest of the world continue to go without.

“This is not just a moral outrage; it’s also epidemiologically and economically self-defeating,” Ghebreyesus said.

“The longer this discrepancy persists, the longer the pandemic will drag on, and so will the social and economic turmoil it brings. In the time it takes me to make these remarks, more than 100 people will lose their lives to Covid-19,” he added.

The WHO chief also reiterated that the threat is not over, and that the world is now in the early stages of another wave of infections and deaths.

Increase in transmissions will lead to more dangerous variants that can likely evade vaccines.

Ghebreyesus called for “a massive global push to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of the population of every country by September, at least 40 per cent by the end of the year, and 70 per cent by mid-next year.

“If we can reach those targets, we can not only end the pandemic, we can also reboot the global economy,” he said.