GENEVA, Switzerland – The novel coronavirus has had a devastating impact around the world, but the World Health Organization warned on Monday that worse pandemics are imminent, urging the world to become “serious” about preparedness.
“This is a wake-up call,” WHO head of emergency Michael Ryan told reporters during a briefing a year ago since the UN agency first learned of the spread of the new virus in China.
Since then, nearly 1.8 million people around the world have killed COVID-19, out of more than 80 million infected.
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“This pandemic was very bad,” Ryan admits.
“It has spread very fast around the world and it has affected every corner of this planet, but it is not necessarily the big one.”
He stressed that although the virus is “highly contagious and kills people … the lethal death rate is currently quite low compared to other emerging diseases.”
“We need to get ready for something that could be even worse in the future.”
WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward also warned that although the world has made great scientific progress in addressing the coronavirus crisis, including the development of vaccines at record speeds, it is far from ready to ward off future pandemics. .
“We are dealing with second and third waves of this virus and we are still not prepared to deal with and manage it,” he said.
“Although we are better prepared … we are not completely prepared for this one, let alone the next one.”
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, meanwhile, expressed hope that the COVID-19 pandemic would make the world more prepared to tackle future threats.
“As far as awareness is concerned, I think we’re getting it now,” he said.
But he stressed that ‘now is the time to be really serious’.
“More ambition is needed.”
But Tedros also praised how scientists around the world have worked closely together to end the pandemic.
He specifically mentions the two new strains of the virus that originated in Britain and South Africa, which look more contagious than previous strains.
“We are working with scientists in the UK and South Africa to conduct epidemiological and laboratory studies, which will lead the next steps,” he said.
He praised the two countries for testing and detecting the new variants.
And with more than 50 countries now imposing travel restrictions on Britain, he has also warned against sanctions against countries that share such results transparently.
“Only when countries look and test effectively can you pick up variants and adapt strategies to address them,” he said.
“We must ensure that countries are not punished for transparently sharing new scientific findings.”