The coronavirus pandemic will likely to be “lengthy”, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned, six months after first sounding the international alarm.
In a statement on Saturday, the emergency committee of the WHO highlighted the anticipated lengthy duration of this COVID-19 pandemic and warned of the risk of “response fatigue” given the socio-economic pressures on countries.
The emergency committee met for the fourth time over the coronavirus crisis on Friday, half a year on from its Jan 30 declaration of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) – the WHO’s highest level of alarm.
“WHO continues to assess the global risk level of COVID-19 to be very high,” it said following the meeting.
Going into the meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic’s effects would be long-lasting.
“It’s sobering to think that six months ago, when you recommended I declare a PHEIC, there were less than 100 cases and no deaths outside China,” he said on Friday.
“The pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come.”
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 680,000 people and infected at least 17.6 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
Unsurprisingly, the panel, comprising 17 members and 12 advisers, unanimously agreed that the pandemic still constituted a PHEIC.
Several countries around the world have imposed strict lockdowns in a bid to control the spread of the respiratory disease, plunging economies into sharp contraction.
The committee urged the WHO to provide nuanced, pragmatic guidance on COVID-19 management “to reduce the risk of response fatigue in the context of socio-economic pressures”.
The panel urged the WHO to support countries in preparing for the rollout of proven therapeutics and vaccines.
The committee also urged the agency to accelerate research into the remaining “critical unknowns” of the virus, such as the animal source of the disease and potential animal reservoirs.
It called for improved understanding of the epidemiology and severity of COVID-19, including its long-term health effects.
The near six-hour gathering was hosted at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, with some participants joining via video-link.
The committee will reconvene within the next three months.
The WHO has been sharply criticised for the length of time it took to declare an international emergency.
The United States, which accused it of being too close to China, officially began its withdrawal from the organisation in July.
The agency has also been criticised for recommendations deemed to be late or contradictory, in particular on wearing masks, or the modes of transmission of the virus. (Source: CNA)