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Expect a ‘prolonged’ coronavirus pandemic, WHO warns


GENEVA: The World Health Organization warned on Saturday that the coronavirus pandemic could be “prolonged” after its emergency committee met to assess the crisis six months after the international alarm sounded.
The committee “highlighted the expected long duration of this COVID-19 pandemic,” the WHO said in a statement, warning of the risk of “response fatigue” due to socioeconomic pressures on countries.
The panel met on Friday for the fourth time on the coronavirus crisis, half a year after its Jan. 30 declaration of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), WHO’s highest level of alarm.
“The WHO continues to assess that the overall risk level for COVID-19 is very high,” he said after the meeting.
The new coronavirus has killed at least 680,000 people and infected at least 17.6 million since the outbreak in China emerged last December, according to an official source count compiled by AFP.
As expected, the panel, comprised of 17 members and 12 advisers, unanimously agreed that the pandemic still constituted a PHEIC.
Several countries around the world have imposed strict blockades in an attempt to control the spread of respiratory disease, plunging economies into sharp contraction.
The committee urged WHO to provide nuanced and pragmatic guidance on managing COVID-19 “to reduce the risk of response fatigue in the context of socio-economic pressures.”
The panel urged WHO to support countries in preparing for the deployment of proven therapies and vaccines.
The committee also urged the agency to speed up investigation of the virus’s remaining “unknowns”, such as the animal source of the disease and potential animal reservoirs.
He called for a better understanding of the epidemiology and severity of COVID-19, including its long-term health effects.
And the committee wanted to shed more light on the dynamics of the virus, such as “modes of transmission, elimination, potential mutations; immunity and correlates of protection.”
The nearly six-hour meeting was held at WHO headquarters in Geneva, with some participants joining through a video link.
The committee will reconvene in the next three months.
Upon entering the meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the effects of the pandemic would be long-lasting.
“It is sobering to think that six months ago, when you recommended that I declare a PHEIC, there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths outside of China,” he said on Friday.
“The pandemic is a health crisis of once in a century, the effects of which will be felt in the coming decades.”
The committee warned countries to prepare their health systems to deal with seasonal flu and other disease outbreaks along with the new coronavirus.
They were also urged to “encourage global solidarity” at COVID-19 and address “misinformation / disinformation” about the virus.
The WHO has come under fire for the time it took to declare an international emergency.
The United States, which accused him of being too close to China, officially began its withdrawal from the organization in July.
The agency has also been criticized for recommendations that are considered late or contradictory, in particular on the use of masks or the modes of transmission of the virus.

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