The “zero COVID” policy that Chinese authorities are applying in the face of the latest spike in cases is not sustainable given current knowledge about the coronavirus, said the director of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We believe that it is not sustainable if we take into account the behavior of the virus and what we anticipate for the future,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus.
“Now we have a good understanding of the virus and good tools. Transitioning to another strategy would be very important. We have discussed it with Chinese experts and we have indicated that the approach is not sustainable and I think a change would be very important,” added Tedros.
Under the “zero-COVID” policy, large areas of the population in China are confined to stop the spread of the coronavirus, even if only a small number of people test positive.
The measures in Shanghai have been especially strict, with residents only allowed to leave the premises for exceptional reasons, such as a medical emergency. Many are not even allowed to leave their front door.
The Organization’s emergencies director, Michael Ryan, said that since China has managed to keep the number of deaths relatively low, with 15,000 dead during the pandemic, it is understandable that the authorities want to control the latest outbreaks, but any policy must take human rights into consideration. “We have always said as WHO that we must achieve a balance between control measures and the impact they have on society and in the economy, and that is not always an easy equation,” Ryan stressed.
Cases rise due to omicron subvariants
The COVID-19 cases have increased in more than 50 countrieswhich “highlights the volatility of this virus,” Tedros said.
Omicron, specifically BA.4 and BA.5, is driving the upswing in South Africa, while BA.2 is dominant worldwide.
The relatively high immunity of the population due to vaccination and previous waves is keeping hospitalization and death rates comparatively low compared to previous waves.
“But this is not guaranteed in places where vaccination coverage is low,” he insisted.
The WHO continues to advocate that all countries work to achieve 70% vaccination, starting by immunizing and reinforcing the most vulnerable.
The fourth dose, only for immunosuppressed people
© WHO/Blink Media/Chiara Luxard
For this reason, the WHO considers that countries should not offer a fourth dose of the vaccine to all adults.
“We know that in some groups immunity declines rapidly. If you’re older or have a disease that affects the immune system, if you’re on steroids, cancer medication or severe diabetes, then the immune system doesn’t respond well and a fourth dose can help,” explained the organization’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan. “There are no specific data to justify recommending the fourth dose more broadly.”
The priority, he insisted, is to get the vaccines to those who have not yet received the first doses. In Africa, only 15% of the population is vaccinated with two doses. In particular, he added, we must focus on the elderly and health workers. “In Africa, only 26% of the population over the age of 60 is fully vaccinated and this is very concerning because in any future outbreak, like what we are seeing in some countries, that group will be at risk of developing severe disease,” he added.
World Summit on COVID-19
Against this backdrop, the World Summit on COVID-19 co-hosted by US President Joe Biden, to be held virtually this Thursday, is another opportunity “to prepare for the worst, so that countries are in the best position to respond to whatever comes.”
Tedros said worst-case scenarios include a variant that evades current immunity, spreads more easily, or causes higher mortality.
“This pandemic is not over and we need all leaders to step up to bolster population immunity and work collectively to get tests, treatments and vaccines to last-mile populations,” he said.
The WHO also hopes to see progress at the Summit so that antivirals – such as nirmatrelvier / ritonavir – and tests are distributed equitably throughout the world.
The Organization is working with ACT Accelerator partners to secure contracts that can increase availability and affordability.
“Too many countries, including most of Latin America, cannot access the medicine at this time,” said Tedros, who made several requests to the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
First, it is necessary to increase the geographic scope of the licenses that Pfizer has signed with the Medicines Patent Pool.
Second, “the drug prices must be affordable for the countries and transparent”.
Third, there should be no additional contractual requirements that hinder or delay access at the national level. “Delays cost lives.” Held.
Fourth, we must continue to support the growth of generic manufacturing around the world in order to rapidly increase supply.
In this sense, the Ethiopian said that at the World Summit the leaders must reach an agreement on the temporary exemption from intellectual property of COVID-19 toolswhose negotiation remains stuck in the World Trade Organization.
“Last week we estimated that almost 15 million people have already died from COVID-19, do we wait for a worse pandemic to activate the exemption?” he concluded.
The effects of the pandemic on migration
Although much of the mobility restrictions due to COVID have been lifted, migrants and travelers continue to face higher costs, as well as delays in processing visas and travel, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration.
With opportunities to move through regular channels limited by the pandemic, and worsening economic and social conditions in many countries, irregular migration increased across the Mediterranean, Africa, and from Latin America and the Caribbean to the US border.
Travel costs – including those related to testing and quarantine – continued to widen the gap between those who move and those who do not, and regular migration channels are only accessible to those who can afford the highest costs.