WHO hopeful pandemic’s emergency phase ends in 2022

Two years into the COVID-19 crisis, the World Health Organization’s top official for Europe on Monday said he is hopeful the pandemic’s emergency phase will end in 2022.

“The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful we can end the emergency phase in 2022 and address other health threats that urgently require our attention,” Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said in a statement.

However, he stressed that “it is far too early to relax” as the pandemic enters a new phase driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

“Omicron is displacing delta with unprecedented speed. Less than two months since it was first discovered in South Africa, it now accounts for 31.8% of cases across the European Region, up from 15% the previous week and 6.3% the week before that,” he said.

2 years since onset in Europe

“On this day two years ago, France reported the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region,” said Kluge, adding that much has been learned since then during “this once-in-a-generation crisis.”

“But that did not come without the unacceptable human cost we know: every single hour since the pandemic’s onset, 99 people in the region have lost their lives to COVID-19. We mourn the more than 1.7 million people in the European Region who are no longer with us.”

Gains in poverty reduction have been reversed, with more than 4 million people in the region now pushed under the $5.50 a day poverty line, he added.

“Children’s education and mental well-being have suffered immensely,” he said.

Kluge paid tribute to health workers who have borne the brunt of the crisis and continue to put themselves in harm’s way.

“We cannot say that they have come out intact,” he said.

“Research shows that as many as 43% of frontline health workers are experiencing significant levels of anxiety, and a large proportion of clinical staff working in intensive care now meet the clinical threshold for post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The WHO regional head said more than 1.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the European region, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

“Huge advances in medical science and cross-border collaboration have led to no less than 10 different approved vaccines currently rolled out, with more in the pipeline,” said Kluge.

“This is one of the greatest scientific achievements in decades.”

However, he stressed that there are still “huge disparities in access to vaccines,” as “too many people who need the vaccine remain unvaccinated.”

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