Wednesday, March 29

The WHO warns that the pandemic “is not over” despite the global drop in cases

Low vaccination in Africa, the situation in Asia, the lifting of restrictions or new variants cast doubt on the end of covid

Alvaro Soto

A pandemic, by definition, is “an epidemic disease that spreads to many countries.” And although in Europe and the United States concern about covid is at its lowest level in the last two years, international institutions and experts warn that the world is far from being able to end the health crisis. The Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) on covid-19 was “unanimous” yesterday in stating that “this is not the time to lower our guard,” declared its president, Didier Houssin. “The situation is far from over,” said the senior health official. Cases around the world have fallen for the third consecutive week, but the low vaccination rates in Africa, with 21 countries with less than 10% of the population with vaccine coverage, the end of restrictions in the West, the possible appearance of new variants and the explosion of cases in Asia, which is experiencing the worst situation since the beginning of 2020, worries experts.

When SARS-CoV-2 spread unchecked by borders or continents in early 2020, the world faced the pandemic with two very different strategies. After the strict confinements of the spring, the governments of Europe and America opted to try to mitigate the effects of the virus. Restrictions were decreed, but life went on. In Asia, on the other hand, another strategy prevailed, which was called ‘zero covid’: SARS-CoV-2 had to be eradicated, even if this meant massive tests almost daily, long quarantines and locking down cities with millions of inhabitants for just one or two cases.

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Until now, the data seemed to have given the reason to those in favor of ending the virus at any cost. The model was China, which with 1.4 billion inhabitants, has barely registered 1.6 million infections and has recorded 13,500 deaths. In the same period, in Spain, with 50 million, infections have reached 11 million and deaths, almost 103,000. But in recent weeks, the spread of the omicron variant, and its BA.2 lineage, has changed everything in Asia, which is facing an explosion of cases and mass lockdowns.

“We have to start from a certainty. The omicron variant is probably the most contagious virus known, even more so than measles. And in China there is the perfect storm for ómicron to cause damage: the country is opening up and ending restrictions, and its population is poorly vaccinated, especially the elderly, with its own compound that has relatively little efficacy, ”he explains. the epidemiologist Salvador Macip, director of one of the laboratories at the University of Leicester (United Kingdom).

China, between a rock and a hard place: either covid or confinement

«The ‘zero covid’ strategy has failed. It was a policy guided by the idea that we could achieve elimination, but to achieve elimination of a disease, a series of quite complicated assumptions have to be made and a globally coordinated strategy is needed. If the rest of the world chooses to mitigate and a country chooses to eliminate, when the virus is opened it enters a very vulnerable population,” says Usama Bilal, professor of Public Health at Drexel University in Philadelphia (United States). , which points to the “general lifting of measures in many countries” and “vaccination problems in population groups, especially the most vulnerable, in many parts of the world”, as reasons for the global alert.

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Thus, in the last 28 days, several countries have broken daily records for infections. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, since mid-March, China has recorded 15% of all its total cases of the pandemic; Australia, 30%; and South Korea, 60%, with saturated hospitals and crematoria, a tsunami that could have reverberations in Europe.

“Very likely, it will come, given that the virus continues to circulate. We have seen it in countries that have lifted restrictions. What we have to ask ourselves is how we are going to reinstate the measures (mask indoors, for example) when necessary, how we are going to reinforce our surveillance system and what we will do if there is a spike in cases in matters such as sick leave, where the system has proven to be inefficient”, underlines Bilal. “A pandemic is an infection on a global scale, and the covid-19 pandemic is far from over,” insists Macip; “There are many countries with very few vaccinated and if the virus continues to circulate, new variants may appear that cause more waves.”

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