World

Worldwide deaths from COVID-19 last week lowest since March 2020: WHO

The world has never been in a better position to end the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, urging nations to keep up their efforts against the virus that has killed more than six million people.

World in better position to end pandemic, director general says

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, is pictured in May. On Wednesday, he delivered his most optimistic comments about COVID-19 since the WHO declared it an international emergency. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/The Associated Press)

The world has never been in a better position to end the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, urging nations to keep up their efforts against the virus that has killed more than six million people.

"We are not there yet. But the end is in sight," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a virtual news conference.

The comment was the most optimistic from the UN agency since it declared COVID-19 an international emergency and started describing the virus as a pandemic in March 2020.

The virus, which emerged in China in late 2019, has killed nearly 6.5 million people and infected 606 million, roiling global economies and overwhelming health-care systems.

Vaccines, therapies have helped stem COVID's severity

The rollout of vaccines and therapies have helped to stem the severity of disease. Deaths from COVID-19 last week were the lowest since March 2020.

In its weekly report on the pandemic, the UN agency said deaths fell by 22 per cent in the past week, at just over 11,000 reported worldwide. There were 3.1 million new cases, a drop of 28 per cent, continuing a weeks-long decline in the disease in every part of the world.

Still, the WHO warned that relaxed COVID-19 testing and surveillance in many countries means that many cases are going unnoticed. The agency issued a set of policy briefs for governments to strengthen their efforts against the coronavirus ahead of the expected winter surge of COVID-19, warning that new variants could yet undo the progress made to date.

"If we don't take this opportunity now, we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption and more uncertainty," Tedros said.

The WHO reported that the Omicron subvariant BA.5 continues to dominate globally and comprised nearly 90 per cent of virus samples shared with the world's biggest public database. In recent weeks, regulatory authorities in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere have cleared tweaked vaccines that target both the original coronavirus and later variants including BA.5.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead on COVID-19, said the organization expected future waves of the disease, but was hopeful those would not cause many deaths.

Monkeypox cases, too, were on a downtrend, but Tedros urged countries to keep up the fight.

WHO officials said last month that it is possible to eliminate the monkeypox outbreak in Europe by stepping up vaccination and testing.

"As with COVID-19, this is not the time to relax or let down our guard."

With files from The Associated Press

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