Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Deadlier than the first

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the world must prepare for a virus that is “even deadlier” than Covid which has killed at least 20 million. While declaring the end of the pandemic, Dr.Tedros, warned of the threat of another variant emerging that causes new surges of disease and death remains, and the threat of another pathogen emerging with even deadlier potential remains. This is not a very reassuring message since it is largely believed that vaccines have more or less greatly minimised the threat from the virus. It was cold comfort when global media reported that China is bracing for a new wave of Covid infections that could see as many as 65 million cases per week by the time the surge peaks at the end of June. This was another shocking news that a country that appeared to have managed to contain the spread of the pandemic originated in late 2019, that only months ago had enforced some of the harshest Covid control protocols on the planet is going to face another serious crisis. Now, with the latest omicron variant, XBB, fuelling a resurgence in cases, the response from China’s government and the public is muted at best. The new wave’s data was revealed by respiratory disease specialist Zhong Nanshan at a medical conference this week in the southern city of Guangzhou. According to state media, the wave that started in late April was “anticipated,” and that the modelling suggested China could be approaching 40 million infections per week. Zhong Nanshan said by the end of June, the weekly number of infections will peak at 65 million. During China’s first omicron wave in December and January 2019, a different omicron variant was infecting millions of people every day, overwhelming hospitals and crematoriums in cities across the country. Store shelves were emptied of fever medications and schools were shut down. If the outbreak simply does not end, then declaring a time point at which “it’s over” is understandably tricky. As the WHO indicate in their recent statement, there needs to be a continued focus on COVID beyond any defined end of the public health emergency. This focus must remain even as countries consider how to mainstream their disease control into more routine public health and health service infrastructure. The fact is that COVID pandemic may never be over. However, the public health threat of this virus should continue to decline. The need to learn lessons from this pandemic ahead of the inevitable next time is essential. History has shown us that infectious diseases have the capacity to evolve and emerge unpredictably. Scientists had predicted that the next virus will be deadlier but it is possible that it may have already arrived but the world is yet to recognise it and when it does it could be too late.

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