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End of Covid-19 pandemic ‘in sight’, says World Health Organisation

(Victoria Jones/PA)
(Victoria Jones/PA)

The end of the Covid-19 pandemic is “in sight”, the World Health Organisation has said.

The WHO said weekly deaths from the virus around the world are at the lowest level since March 2020 – the month the UK first went into lockdown.

The director general of the international health body, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a press conference: “Last week, the number of weekly reported deaths from Covid-19 was the lowest since March 2020.

“We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic – we are not there yet, but the end is in sight.

“A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view, she runs harder, with all the energy she has left. So must we.

“We can see the finish line, we’re in a winning position. But now is the worst time to stop running.

“Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.

“If we don’t take this opportunity now, we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption and more uncertainty. So let’s seize this opportunity.

“Today, WHO is releasing six short policy briefs that outline the key actions that all governments must take now to finish the race.

“We can end this pandemic together, but only if all countries, manufacturers, communities and individuals step up and seize this opportunity.”

The documents include guidance on testing, vaccination, best practice of managing the disease, maintaining infection control measures in health facilities, preventing the spread of misinformation and community engagement.

One of the papers says: “With access to and appropriate use of existing life-saving tools, Covid-19 can become a manageable disease with significantly reduced morbidity and mortality.”

The WHO has estimated that 19.8 million deaths were averted in 2021 thanks to Covid-19 vaccines, and 12 billion doses have been administered around the world.

Dr Tedros Adhanom
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Alamy/PA)

But it warned that the virus still poses an “acute global emergency” and highlighted that during the first eight months of 2022 more than a million people died from Covid-19.

“Transmission of the virus continues to be robust,” the document says. “Repeated disease waves and the emergence of new variants continue to present risks and challenges.”

It comes as UK officials confirmed that no plans are being made for people to be able to buy Covid-19 jabs privately.

The flu jab is offered annually to people in at-risk groups, with those who are not in these groups able to purchase the vaccine privately, should they wish to do so.

But the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed to GP magazine Pulse that there are no plans to mimic this programme with a Covid vaccine, with supplies only available through the NHS.

Covid-19 infections in the UK have dropped to their lowest level for nearly 11 months.

A total of 944,700 people in private households are estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to August 28, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It is the lowest UK-wide total since the week to October 2 2021, when the number was 942,600.

Infections hit 3.8 million in early July this year during the spread of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, but have been on a broadly downward path in recent weeks.

At a national level, infections are continuing to fall in England and Wales while the trend is uncertain in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the ONS said.

At the end of August the Covid-19 alert level in the UK was downgraded from level three to level two.

A level two alert means Covid-19 is “in general circulation but direct Covid-19 healthcare pressures and transmission are declining or stable”.

In the week ending September 2, 8,868 deaths were registered in England and Wales, and 314 mentioned “novel coronavirus (Covid-19)”, accounting for 3.5% of deaths, according to the ONS.