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WHO chief sees pandemic 'finish line'

With the number of deaths from COVID-19 reaching its lowest point of the pandemic, WHO's director-general for the first time said "the end is in sight."

Tax authorities in Taiwan offer walk-up services to avoid confined spaces where COVID-19 could spread
Tax authorities in Taiwan offer walk-up services to avoid confined spaces where COVID-19 could spread (AN/Xuan Shisheng)

GENEVA (AN) — With the number of COVID-19 deaths reaching its lowest point of the pandemic, the World Health Organization's director-general for the first time held out the possibility that it could be coming to an end.

"Last week, the number of weekly reported deaths from COVID-19 was the lowest since March 2020. We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We are not there yet, but the end is in sight," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online media briefing on Wednesday.

WHO reported the number of new cases decreased by 28% in the previous week, with over 3.1 million new cases reported. It said the number of new deaths decreased by 22% in the past week, with more than 11,000 fatalities reported. Some 605 million confirmed cases and 6.4 million deaths have been reported globally.

Tedros, a former government minister from Ethiopia who was re-elected to a second five-year term as the U.N. agency's chief in May, has served as a public face of the pandemic for many in the world. He has repeatedly demanded greater vaccine equity among rich and poor nations and urged governments to be cautious about letting up too soon on the many health measures needed to curb the virus' spread.

"A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view. She runs harder, with all the energy she has left. So must we," he said.

Nonetheless, he added: "We can see the finish line. We’re in a winning position. But now is the worst time to stop running. Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work."

Everyone needs to 'step up'

WHO officials say the omicron subvariant BA.5 remains the dominant virus worldwide and accounts for almost 90% of all virus samples in its database. Drug makers are preparing to roll out updated vaccines that are more effective against the original and evolving variants.

But governments must do more to cross the pandemic's "finish line," according to WHO, which issued six policy briefs urging governments to strengthen their health systems ahead of winter when another COVID-19 surge could occur as people spend more time indoors.

The policy briefs advise all countries to vaccinate all health workers, older people and others in the most at-risk groups, keep testing and sequencing for the coronavirus, and integrate surveillance and testing with those for other respiratory diseases.

They also recommend that authorities incorporate COVID-19 care into their primary health care systems, maintain infection prevention and control precautions in health facilities, and train health workers to identify and address misinformation among their communities.

"We can end this pandemic together," said Tedros, "but only if all countries, manufacturers, communities and individuals step up and seize this opportunity."