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Coronavirus may never go away, warns the World Health Organization


GENEVA: The coronavirus causing Covid-19 could become endemic like HIV, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, warning against any attempt to predict how long it would continue to circulate and calling for a “massive effort” to counter it.

“It is important to put this on the table: this virus can become another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus will never go away,” said WHO emergency expert Mike Ryan in an online briefing.

“I think it is important that we are realistic and I do not think that anyone can predict when this disease will disappear,” he added. “I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates. This disease may become a long-term problem or it may not be.”

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However, he said the world had some control over how he dealt with the disease, although this would require “massive effort” even if a vaccine were found, a prospect he described as “a massive shot at the moon.”

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More than 100 potential vaccines are being developed, including several in clinical trials, but experts have highlighted the difficulties of finding vaccines that are effective against coronaviruses.

Ryan noted that there are vaccines for other diseases, such as measles, that have not been eliminated.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added: “The trajectory is in our hands, and it is everyone’s business, and we should all contribute to stopping this pandemic.”

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Ryan said “very significant control” of the virus was required to lower the risk assessment, which he said remained high at “national, regional and global levels.”

Governments around the world are struggling with the question of how to reopen their economies while still containing the virus, which has infected nearly 4.3 million people, according to a Reuters count, and caused more than 291,000 deaths.

The European Union pushed Wednesday for a gradual reopening of borders within the pandemic-closed bloc, saying it was not too late to save part of the summer tourist season and keep people safe.

But public health experts say extreme caution is needed to avoid new outbreaks. Ryan said opening land borders was less risky than facilitating air travel, which was a “different challenge.”

“We need to have the mentality that it will take some time to get out of this pandemic,” said WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove at the briefing.

Times of India