COVID-19: ‘The pandemic could be with us for many years,’ WHO warns

As anger spreads across Europe over the re-imposed coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns, the World Health Organization warned that the virus could be with us for many years.

“The COVID-19 pandemic looks set to go on for quite a long time, months, perhaps years, simply because it’s a highly transmissible virus, meaning people can easily and quickly get infected,” said Dr David Nabarro, the WHO Director-General’s Special Envoy on COVID-19.

Several European countries are currently battling a fresh surge of infections with record daily case numbers.

Nabarro said the COVID-19 virus has “got the habit of changing over time” and advises governments that want to keep this virus under some degree of control to respect a mix of preventive measures.

“The first thing is that people need to treat it with as much respect as they can, and that means facemasks covering your face properly. It means trying not to breathe in the air that others have exhaled. And it means practising very good hygiene things that we were good at in 2020, but have recently slipped a bit in some places,” Nabarro said.

“I think that in recent weeks and months, perhaps what happened is that in some countries there’s been a reduction in vigilance, a reduction in mask-wearing, a reduction in physical distancing, and that can very easily create a situation where the virus which is always stalking and waiting to cause problems to build up and come back stronger. And that’s what’s happening in different parts of Europe right now,” he added.

But for scientists tasked with assessing the global response to COVID-19, governments are not moving fast enough to end the pandemic. The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, formed by the WHO, recently released a report calling for the creation of a global pandemic treaty.

“The WHO must be strengthened with more funding and greater ability to investigate pandemics through a new treaty,” the independent panel said.

“Efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic have been uneven and fragmented, marked by limited access to vaccines in low-income countries while the ‘healthy and wealthy’ in rich countries get boosters,” the report continued.

Dr Nabarro agreed with the panel’s view that pandemic prevention requires a global and unified approach, saying “this is a problem that requires the best brains to come together to deal with it”.

The WHO Director-General’s Special Envoy on COVID-19 also suggested nations share their resources, especially when borders are opened between countries.

“You can’t deal with this with countries working separately, and especially you can’t do it with countries appearing to compete with each other,” he went on.

“I, as a public health person, have never seen so much division and acrimony around the way to deal with a health problem like we’ve got on how to deal with COVID-19.”

“Quite simply, all nations should be working together, prioritising what needs to be done particularly on behalf of those who are especially threatened by this virus, and they should regularly review what they are doing.”

“The best way to do that is with a strong World Health Organization. Unbelievably, countries are still not fully settled on the fact whether they are going to back the WHO, so I’m really pleased this report is saying: ‘Come on everybody, let’s fund this organisation properly’,” Nabarro concluded.

Watch the full interview in the video player above.

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