When will the COVID-19 pandemic officially be over? It’s complicated, experts say – National
The COVID-19 global health emergency is not yet over, according to the World Health Organization, but figuring out how to measure the end of a pandemic is not a simple equation, experts say.
During a briefing on Thursday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made it clear he believes COVID-19 remains a global health emergency and that combating it requires continued attention and diligence.
“I said the pandemic is not over, but the end is in sight. Both are true,” Tedros said. “Being able to see the end doesn’t mean we’re at the end.”
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The number of weekly deaths is now only 10% of what it was at the global peak in January 2021 and two-thirds of the world’s population are now vaccinated, including three-quarters of health workers and the elderly, who are all positive signs,” Tedros said.
But 10,000 people still die from the disease every week, and that’s 10,000 too many when these deaths are preventable, he added.
“We’ve been in a long, dark tunnel for two and a half years and we’re only just beginning to see the light at the end…but we’re not there yet.
“We are still in the tunnel, and we will only get to the end by focusing on the path ahead and moving forward with determination and care.”
The debate over whether the pandemic is still active was sparked late last week when US President Joe Biden said in an interview on Sunday that “the pandemic is over”.
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Biden’s comments came after the WHO said last week that the end of the coronavirus pandemic was in sight, indicating a global decrease in the number of weekly deaths in recent weeks.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, noted on Thursday that the UN agency did not actually declare COVID-19 a “pandemic” in February 2020, but rather declared the virus as a “public health emergency of international concern”, based on the recommendations of the WHO Emergency Committee.
That committee is currently in active discussion about what criteria to use to decide when COVID-19 is no longer an emergency, Van Kerkhove said.
“There are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration, and those are still under discussion, looking at what’s happening globally, what’s happening in each country with the virus itself with the epidemiology,” she said.
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It turns out there’s no official plan on exactly how to determine the end of a global pandemic, says Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist based at Toronto General Hospital.
“You’re not going to get a sharp, quick definition, like different people define it in different ways.”
However, the WHO released a risk management guidance document in 2017 focusing on how to handle influenza pandemics which it says are “unpredictable but recurring events”.
The document, which has been used by a number of countries, including Canada, as a framework to guide its risk assessment and response to COVID-19, lists four phases of a global influenza health emergency: interpandemic, alert, pandemic and transition.
In his 2020 book, On pandemicsEpidemiologist and Order of Canada recipient David Waltner-Toews notes that this WHO paper “assumes that whenever we’re not in a pandemic, we’re between pandemics, like we’re between ice ages.”
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“Although designed to manage influenza in humans, the WHO phases can be applied to all infectious diseases,” he writes in his book.
“There is no non-pandemic phase in our future. We have always lived between pandemics and we always will.”
For a country to declare this particular pandemic “over” is problematic because multiple countries face different realities when it comes to its active cases, death rates and availability of vaccines and antiviral drugs, Waltner said. Toews in an interview.
“I think what (Biden) is trying to say is we’ve gone from this emergency – everything’s closed, closed the borders, all that stuff – to a situation where we have to deal with it. “, did he declare.
In 2019, the federal government released – and has since updated – a “Public Health Response Plan for the Ongoing Management of COVID-19” document, which included the WHO pandemic phases and goals and general objectives for each phase.
Ottawa has not officially indicated which of these phases it considers the country to be in right now, but Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Wednesday he does not yet believe the pandemic is over. .
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“If anyone is not sure the pandemic is over, I invite them to walk into a hospital and see…COVID is not over yet, so we need to take care not just of you , but also healthcare workers,” he told reporters in French.
Health Canada added in a statement that the federal government of Canada has “taken a comprehensive, multi-tiered approach with actions informed by available data, operational considerations, scientific evidence and monitoring of the epidemiological situation in both Canada and abroad”.
It’s fair to recognize that Canada is now in a more positive position, but there continue to be unnecessary and preventable deaths even though Canadians have vaccines that can prevent those outcomes, Bogoch said.
But Canada, like other countries, has dismantled much of its testing and vaccine infrastructure, which could help the country recover further, he said.
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“In the first vaccine rollout we had for doses one and two, we bent no stone unturned to get the vaccine into communities that have been disproportionately affected by the virus…bringing the vaccine to the people, not bring the vaccine to people,” Bogoch said.
“It’s a lot to ask, but if you really want to alleviate the suffering of COVID-19, prevent death and also ease the burden on the healthcare system, especially as we enter colder winter months in the northern hemisphere, you do that.
Meanwhile, the virus is still circulating widely, constantly mutating and remaining unpredictable, making it difficult to declare victory, Van Kerkhove said.
“This virus is here with us to stay and we need to manage it responsibly,” she said.
“We are working to end the emergency in every country because this is a global problem, we need to end it globally.”
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