COVID-19 remains “a threat,” the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, four years after the appearance of a disease that claimed millions of lives and ravaged the global economy, but is no longer seen as a priority.
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“This virus, SARS-CoV-2, is currently circulating in all countries and still poses a threat,” warned Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO scientist responsible for leading the fight against the pandemic.
“We must remain vigilant, because the virus circulates, evolves and changes,” she insisted, during an exchange with the public on social networks.
Maria Van Kerkhove was one of the faces of the WHO’s battle against the disease. She is now interim director responsible for preparing and preventing epidemics and pandemics.
There are currently three variants of the COVID-19 virus (XBB.1.5, XXB.1.16 and EG.5) called “of interest”, that is to say subject to enhanced surveillance. A fourth (BA.2.86) must join this cohort even if he does not present increased severity of the disease.
“We have seen a slow and steady increase in its detection around the world,” explained Dr Van Kerkhove.
Faced with the COVID pandemic, the WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020, its highest level of alert, finally lifted on May 5, 2023.
In addition to the acute and immediate symptoms, the WHO is concerned about the long-term effects caused by the virus, known as long COVID.
“We have evidence that vaccination with COVID-19 vaccines reduces the risk” of long COVID, Maria Van Kerkhove said.
She said 13.5 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide since the first injections in late 2020.
She also encouraged people in the northern hemisphere, where winter is starting soon, to get vaccinated against COVID and the flu.
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