Covid-19 remains a major danger to public health and this is not the time for countries to let their guard down in surveillance, testing, sanitary measures and, much less, vaccinating their populations.
The alert came from a WHO (World Health Organization) committee and was released last Wednesday (13) in Geneva. For the agency, the pandemic continues to negatively affect the health of populations around the world, and poses an ongoing risk of international spread.
The committee stressed that the lower numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths do not necessarily mean a “lower risk” of the disease, as the virus continues to evolve and it is not possible to afford to ignore these mutations.
Last week saw the lowest number of deaths from Covid-19 in the world since the early days of the pandemic. The drop in cases of deaths and infections favored the announcement of new measures by the Brazilian government, released this Sunday (16).
However, some countries in Europe and Asia still face high peaks of the disease, putting pressure on their hospitals. South Korea leads the world in the average daily number of new cases, with more than 182,000 new infections per day.
Shanghai is experiencing the worst outbreak of Covid in China since the beginning of the pandemic. Countries such as France, Germany, the UK and Belgium have also seen numbers increase.
According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the WHO, the ability to monitor trends in the behavior of the pandemic is compromised because testing has been significantly reduced in several countries.
Genetic testing and sequencing are vital for new variants to be tracked and identified. Currently, WHO follows several omicron sublineages, including BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5 and another detected recombinant comprising BA.1 and BA.2.
In Brazil, the BA.2 subvariant is already the majority among Covid cases in Brazil, representing almost 70% of the samples analyzed, according to data from the ITPS (Instituto Todos pela Saúde).
The last underlinings BA.4. and BA.5 have been reported in several countries, including South Africa and some European countries. So far, however, these mutations have not translated into an increase in cases and deaths.
But for WHO emergency director Michael Ryan, as the virus continues to evolve, the world “can’t just lose sight of it.”
“It would be very shortsighted at this point to assume that lower case numbers mean absolutely lower risks. We are pleased to see deaths dropping, but this virus has surprised us before, it has caught us off guard before.”
WHO lead scientist Soumiya Swaminathan warned that substrains and new recombinants will continue to appear, and the world must continue to invest in improved tools such as new vaccines.
“We have to be prepared for the possibility that this virus could change so much that it could escape existing immunity,” he said.
Tedros also stressed that the coronavirus remains deadly, especially for the unprotected and unvaccinated who lack access to healthcare and antivirals.
A recent WHO survey shows that 21 countries have not vaccinated even 10% of their populations.
Around 64.8% of the world’s population have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.
“The situation is far from over with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic. The circulation of the virus is still very active, mortality remains high and the virus is evolving in an unpredictable way,” he said.
For experts, the pandemic is a worldwide phenomenon, so it is not up to a single country to decree its end. Thus, health protocols must continue to be respected by all.