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Business News/ Science / Health/  Next COVID variant: WHO chief on 2 factors creating an 'ideal condition' for new coronavirus strains
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Next COVID variant: WHO chief on 2 factors creating an 'ideal condition' for new coronavirus strains

In many countries, the lower severity of Omicron is driving a false narrative that the pandemic is over, WHO chief asserted

WHO chief said that the longer this inequity continues, the longer the pandemic drags on (Reuters)Premium
WHO chief said that the longer this inequity continues, the longer the pandemic drags on (Reuters)

Sounding another alarm regarding the next COVID variant, World Health Organisation (WHO) chief pointed out that inequitable access to vaccines and tests in many countries combined with high transmission is creating an ideal condition for new variants to emerge. “The longer this inequity continues, the longer the pandemic drags on," he also warned. 

Noting how the pandemic is hampering crucial economic goals, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus  said, “With prolonged economic uncertainty and increased risk of long-term scarring, the pandemic has seriously set us back on progress toward sustainable development which is crucial for long-term economic stability."

“And hence closer collaboration between health and finance sectors is essential," WHO chief added.

Most countries are not performing genomic sequencing

Explaining why it is difficult to identify new variants early, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan pointed out that high costs of genomic sequencing are holding back roughly one third of the countries in the world from genomic sequencing COVID-19.  This method helps identify new variants of the virus.

The equipment are high in cost as they need expensive reagents, which often have to be imported. This fact itself has prevented countries from developing this expertise, she said during Devex’s Prescription for Progress event Tuesday.

Though the rate of genomic sequencing has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic, even the current levels are not good enough

It's Olympics for the coronavirus

Earlier this week, while speaking on topics related to Omicron and the emergence of new COVID variants, WHO top official Mike Ryan explained, it’s the Olympics for the viruses right now in terms of each sub-lineage, each sub-variant, each variant trying to outdo the next one and that process will continue, and as long as transmission continues that selective pressure will be on the virus.

Adding to his view, WHO's Maria Van Kerkhove added, that increased transmissibility has to do with the mutations and another thing that is now noticeable for (Omicron) is immune escape properties. 

“So, this is something that we are looking for into the future variants and what may happen, if we will have more transmissible variants, which is likely, but we’re also worried about the potential for variants that will have further immune escape."

If that is the case then the risk of reinfection or the risk of breakthrough infection could be higher into the future.

75,000 COVID deaths reported last week

“In many countries, the lower severity of Omicron is driving a false narrative that the pandemic is over," Tedros said during an address. This comes at a time when COVID-related deaths continue to scar us. 

Last week alone, 75,000 COVID deaths were reported, even though the number of cases recorded in the same time span was significantly low as compared to the previous weeks. However, the WHO officials cautioned that the infection count is low as the testing rate has dropped. 

Last week, only 16 million new COVID cases were reported. 

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Published: 18 Feb 2022, 04:23 PM IST
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