Covid declared a pandemic two years ago. Health experts warn it’s still not over

Medical staff treat a patient with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California, January 25, 2022.

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

LONDON – With war raging between Russia and Ukraine, the global battle against the coronavirus has been largely sidelined and the second anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a Covid-19 pandemic could easily escape us.

Covid was, and still is, a seismic event that affected the lives of millions, causing grief for those who lost loved ones and anxiety for millions who lost their livelihoods as the pandemic has caused widespread lockdowns and a blow to businesses both large and small.

Of course, the lasting impact on many people’s mental and physical health has yet to be fully measured or appreciated, along with the effects of the virus – whether it’s the mock Covid symptoms or the “long Covid “that many people experience, or its impact on the brain and body – still being studied by scientists.

Two years ago, when the WHO declared on March 11, 2020 that Covid “could be called a pandemic”, little did we know that we would now have had over 452 million cases to date, and over 6 million deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, which continues to tally the number of infections and deaths.

The numbers are so huge that it’s easy to forget that each of these deaths was a tragic loss to someone or a family.

Triumph of the vaccine

While the human cost and emotional loss caused by the pandemic is incalculable, the achievements made during the pandemic should be celebrated with great optimism on the day the first preliminary clinical trial results were released, November 9, 2020 by Pfizer, indicating that its Covid vaccine developed with the German biotech BioNTech in record time, has been very effective against Covid.

Finally signaling a way out of the pandemic, stock markets soared and the vaccine maker hailed the discovery as a “great day for science and humanity”. The happy announcement was followed by similar results from Moderna, AstraZeneca and others.

Since then, a number of global manufacturers have produced millions of doses of Covid vaccines, with the world’s luckiest having received not only their standard two-dose initial immunization, but also a booster. For the world’s poorest, a Covid vaccine, like other forms of basic health care, remains elusive and many experts say it should be a stain on the conscience of the wealthy West.

While 63.4% of the world’s population has now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with more than 10 billion doses administered worldwide, only 13.7% of people in low-risk countries income received at least one dose, according to Our World in Data, another source of invaluable data during the pandemic.

Unknown origin

There are still many unanswered questions about Covid, the most important being: where did the virus come from?

It became something of a political hot potato during the pandemic with China, in which the virus first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, denying it was the cause of the pandemic. After a long delay, an international team of scientists and public health experts were allowed into the country to investigate, but they struggled to determine the origin of the virus. Although they ruled out any “lab leak” theory, it remains a mystery, with scientists believing it still most likely originated from an animal.

As the world’s major economies reopen and many countries are now learning to “live” with the virus, public health experts are keen to stress that the pandemic is not over yet.

We have already learned the hard way that new variants of the virus can and have emerged with each new strain that we know to be more virulent (although, thankfully, less deadly) than the previous one.

The emergence of the omicron variant – which proved to be much more transmissible but less lethal, and caused a sharp spike and fall in cases around the world – took some governments by surprise and illustrated the different levels of tolerance that the leaders were ready to demonstrate towards “living with” Covid.

Made with Flourish

Some, like the UK, were more willing to take a ‘wait and see’ approach to how much damage the variant could cause while others like Germany and the Netherlands, aware of the tensions on their healthcare systems, reinstated partial restrictions or lockdowns at the end of 2021.

The move sparked protests from many sides in Europe, but protests against the Covid measures had become commonplace before, with some members of the public questioning the public guidelines and restrictions imposed on them, and others going more away, denying the existence of Covid, with the myth-spreading the virus, a perpetual bogeyman for virologists, epidemiologists and front-line health workers treating those sick or dying of Covid.

A person holds a sign as people gather during a protest against mandatory coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines and vaccination passports, in New York on September 27, 2021.

David ‘Dee’ Delgado | Reuters

It is not finished’

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a familiar face to millions of us now, said Thursday on the eve of the second anniversary of the declaration of the Covid pandemic that “although reported cases and deaths are declining around the world, and several countries have lifted restrictions, the pandemic is far from over.”

In a Twitter post on Thursday, Tedros reiterated the WHO’s mantra that Covid “won’t be over anywhere until it’s over everywhere” and he said the WHO was concerned about the number of countries “drastically” reducing testing and that this “hinders our ability to see where the virus is, how it is spreading and how it is changing.”

For countries like the UK, where the government has announced it will scrap most free lateral flow testing on April 1, the end of widespread testing is worrying some public health experts who say cases are already rising in the older age groups, again, as there is more socialization and as the recall shots fade. Whether booster injections will continue to be rolled out remains a moot point, however.

A watchful eye is also being kept on a sub-line of omicron, known as BA.2, with early reports suggesting it is even more transmissible than its omicron ancestor, BA.1.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, was among those who sounded the alarm after data showed a growing number of people aged 55 and over have Covid in the UK, and the prevalence of BA.2 is increasing.

“Cases dropped significantly after the peak of the Omicron wave [but] the growing presence of the omicron BA.2 subline and the recent slight increase in infections among the over 55s show that the pandemic is not over and that we can expect to see Covid-19 circulating in high levels,” Harries said in a UKHSA statement on Thursday.

We know that the protection against Covid provided by vaccines diminishes over time and some countries are considering rolling out further booster shots. Israel announced in January that it would offer fourth shots to healthcare workers and those over 60.

Repeated booster programs have been criticized by some virologists and the WHO has said blanket booster programs mean poor countries could continue to struggle to get initial doses and unequal access to vaccinations could lead to new ones. variants.

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