The World Health Organization warned on Saturday that the coronavirus pandemic would likely be “long” after its emergency committee met to assess the crisis six months after sounding the international alarm.
The committee “underscored the expected long duration of this COVID-19 pandemic,” the WHO said in a statement, and warned of the risk of “response fatigue” given the socio-economic pressures on the countries.
The panel met for the fourth time on Friday on the coronavirus crisis, six months after its January 30 declaration of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) – the WHO’s highest level of alarm .
“The WHO continues to rate the global risk level of COVID-19 as very high,” its latest statement said.
“The committee underscored the long expected duration of this COVID-19 pandemic, noting the importance of sustained community, national, regional and global response efforts.”
The new coronavirus has killed at least 680,000 people and infected at least 17.6 million since the outbreak of the epidemic in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
Unsurprisingly, the group, made up of 18 members and 12 advisers, unanimously agreed that the pandemic still constitutes a USPPI.
– Crisis fatigue warning –
Several countries around the world have imposed strict lockdowns in an attempt to control the spread of respiratory disease, plunging economies into a sharp contraction.
The committee urged WHO to provide nuanced and pragmatic guidance on responses to COVID-19 “to reduce the risk of response fatigue in the context of socio-economic pressures.”
The group urged WHO to help countries prepare for the deployment of proven therapies and vaccines.
The committee also urged the agency to speed up research into the virus’s remaining “critical unknowns”, such as the animal source 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 more light on the dynamics of the virus, such as “modes of transmission, excretion, potential mutations; immunity and correlates of protection.”
The meeting, which lasted nearly six hours, was held at WHO headquarters in Geneva, and some participants joined by video link.
The committee will meet again in three months.
– Effects “ felt for decades ” –
At the start of the meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the effects of the pandemic would be long lasting.
“It’s reassuring to think that six months ago, when you recommended declaring a USPPI, there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths outside of China,” he said on Friday.
“The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades.”
The WHO has come under heavy criticism for the length of time it has taken to declare an international emergency.
The United States, which accused the organization of being too close to China, officially began its withdrawal from the organization in July.
The agency has also been criticized for recommendations deemed late or contradictory, in particular on the wearing of masks, or the modes of transmission of the virus.
“Many scientific questions have been resolved, many remain to be resolved,” Tedros said on Friday.
“Most people around the world remain susceptible to this virus, even in areas that have experienced severe epidemics.”