Talk of Covid ending this year 'unrealistic', says WHO as cases spike

Its emergencies director says public health measures must continue as cases rise again

GENEVA:  It is unrealistic to think the world will be done with the Covid-19 pandemic by the end of the year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned as infections globally rose last week for the first time in seven weeks.

The news was not any better regionally as both Indonesia and Philippines reported cases from the more infectious strains.

"It will be very premature, and I think unrealistic, to think that we're going to finish with this virus by the end of the year," WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said.

He said it might however be possible to take the tragedy out of the crisis by reducing hospitalisations and deaths.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said new case numbers rose last week in Europe, the Americas, South-east Asia and the eastern Mediterranean.

"This is disappointing, but not surprising," he said.

"Some of it appears to be due to relaxing of public health measures, continued circulation of variants, and people letting down their guard.

"Vaccines will help to save lives, but if countries rely solely on vaccines, they're making a mistake. Basic public health measures remain the foundation of the response."

In South-east Asia, Indonesian officials said yesterday that the country has detected two cases of the more infectious variant first discovered in Britain, marking a potential new complication as it tries to contain one of the worst outbreaks in Asia.

Mr Dante Saksono Harbuwono, the deputy health minister, said the discovery of the variant represented a new challenge.

"We'll be facing this pandemic with a higher degree of difficulty," he said.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has documented six cases of the South African variant, its health ministry said yesterday, raising concern among its experts that the current vaccines might be less effective.

The Philippines, also among the hardest hit in Asia, started its Covid-19 vaccination campaign on Monday. But the discovery of another variant could complicate its recovery effort.

"While there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease, the pattern of mutations... suggests higher transmissibility and may have an impact on vaccine efficacy," the health ministry said. - AFP, REUTERS