COVID-19 cases have declined for fifth consecutive week but ‘fire not out’, WHO says

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Updated: March 2, 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that COVID-19 cases have declined for the fifth consecutive week but “the fire is not out.”

“The number of reported cases of COVID-19 globally has now declined for the fifth consecutive week. Last week saw the lowest number of reported weekly cases since October,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom said at his regular press briefing from Geneva.

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“So far this year, the number of weekly reported cases has fallen by almost half, from more than 5 million cases in the week of January 4 to 2.6 million cases in the week starting February 8 – just five weeks. This shows that simple public health measures work, even in the presence of variants.  

“What matters now is how we respond to this trend. The fire is not out, but we have reduced its size. If we stop fighting it on any front, it will come roaring back,” Dr. Tedros added.

On Monday, the WHO also gave emergency use listing to two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, giving the green light for the vaccines to be rolled out globally through COVAX. 

“We now have all the pieces in place for the rapid distribution of vaccines. But we still need to scale-up production, and we continue to call for vaccine developers to submit their dossiers to WHO for review at the same time as they submit them to regulators in high-income countries,” Dr. Tedros said.

He also noted that an outbreak of Ebola which was detected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last week, has expanded to Guinea.

“Yesterday, authorities in Guinea declared a separate outbreak of Ebola in the town of Gouéké, in the southeast of the country. WHO is working closely with health authorities,” he said.

Read his full remarks below:

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

The number of reported cases of COVID-19 globally has now declined for the fifth consecutive week. Last week saw the lowest number of reported weekly cases since October.

So far this year, the number of weekly reported cases has fallen by almost half, from more than 5 million cases in the week of January 4 to 2.6 million cases in the week starting February 8 – just five weeks.

This shows that simple public health measures work, even in the presence of variants.  

What matters now is how we respond to this trend. The fire is not out, but we have reduced its size. If we stop fighting it on any front, it will come roaring back.

Every day with fewer infections means lives saved, suffering prevented, and the burden on health systems eased just a little bit.

And today we have even more reason to be hopeful of bringing the pandemic under control.

Today WHO gave emergency use listing to two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, giving the green light for these vaccines to be rolled out globally through COVAX.

One of the vaccines is produced by SKBio in the Republic of Korea and the other is produced by the Serum Institute of India.

Although both companies are producing the same vaccine, because they are made in different production plants, they required separate reviews and approvals.

WHO emergency use listing assesses and assures the quality, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, and is a prerequisite for vaccines to be distributed by COVAX.

This listing was completed in just under four weeks from the time WHO received the full dossiers from the manufacturers.

In addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, these are now the second and third vaccines to receive emergency use listing.

We now have all the pieces in place for the rapid distribution of vaccines.

But we still need to scale-up production, and we continue to call for vaccine developers to submit their dossiers to WHO for review at the same time as they submit them to regulators in high-income countries.

On Friday I mentioned WHO’s new declaration on vaccine equity.

Ensuring the rapid and equitable rollout of vaccines globally is essential for saving lives and stabilizing health systems. But it’s also essential for saving livelihoods and stabilizing economies.

Fully funding COVAX represents the greatest possible stimulus and is a rounding error compared with the trillions of dollars that have been mobilized in G7 countries to support their economies.

I am pleased that the G7, under the United Kingdom’s presidency, is meeting this Friday to discuss vaccine equity, and I encourage all groups to sign WHO’s declaration.

And we must continue to build the demand for vaccines by ensuring people have the right information.

A year ago, I said that we were not only fighting a pandemic, we were fighting an infodemic.

In the past year, we have seen the real harm that can be caused when people are overwhelmed by information, misinformation and disinformation.

The answer is not just to fight misinformation and delete false or misleading statements.

It’s to listen to the real concerns and questions people have, and to answer those questions with good information.

That’s part of the reason WHO holds these regular media briefings, publishes guidance, communicates on its social media channels and website, holds seminars with different community and professional groups, and more.

Having the right information is essential in every outbreak situation.

As you know, last week an outbreak of Ebola was detected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Four cases have now been reported, and two people have died.

Yesterday, authorities in Guinea declared a separate outbreak of Ebola in the town of Gouéké, in the southeast of the country.

So far, three cases have been confirmed, among six people who reported Ebola like-symptoms after attending a funeral in late January. Two have since died, while the other four are being treated in hospital.

As you remember, Guinea was one of the three countries affected by the West Africa Ebola outbreak of 2014 to 2016, the largest Ebola outbreak on record.

The outbreaks in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are completely unrelated, but we face similar challenges in both.

Both outbreaks are occurring in areas that have recent experience with Ebola, and are benefiting from that experience, in terms of capacity for surveillance, rapid response, contact tracing, community engagement, clinical care and more.

But both outbreaks are also in hard-to-reach, insecure areas, with some mistrust of outsiders.

I’m pleased to say that vaccination started today in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and so far, 43 people have been vaccinated out of 149 eligible contacts, including 20 people who were vaccinated during the previous outbreak in 2019.

WHO is working closely with health authorities in both countries to engage with the affected communities to enhance trust and acceptance.

Ebola and COVID-19 are two very different diseases.

Both thrive on misinformation and mistrust. But both can be stopped with proven public health measures, engaged communities, accurate information and vaccines.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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