The World Health Organization’s emergency committee on Covid-19 on Thursday warned that the pandemic was not over and that it continued to evolve with four variants of concern.
“The committee recognised the strong likelihood for the emergence and global spread of new and possibly more dangerous variants of concern that may be even more challenging to control,” the panel said in a statement.
The committee said that the pandemic was still an “extraordinary event” that continues to hurt public health, and needs a coordinated international response. The statement also said that the committee emphasised on the risk of emergency of new zoonotic diseases during the pandemic. Zoonotic diseases are caused by germs that spread between animals and people, according to United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Animals usually spread it to people and cause illness.
The statement came amid a surge in Delta variant cases around the world. Earlier in the day, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had told the emergency committee that the Delta variant is now found in more than 111 countries and is expected that it will soon be the dominant Covid-19 strain circulating worldwide.
The global health body had designated the Delta strain, first detected in India, as a variant of concern on May 11. In June, WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan had said the Delta variant was becoming the dominant variant globally “because of its significantly increased transmissibility”.
On Thursday, the committee gave advice to the WHO chief regarding the coronavirus infection. Tedros, in turn, forwarded the advice to the WHO parties as temporary recommendations.
The committee told the countries associated with the WHO to achieve the global health body’s call to action to have at least 10% of all countries’ populations vaccinated by September 2021.
“Noting that many countries have now vaccinated their priority populations, it is recommended that doses should be shared with countries that have limited access before expanding national vaccination programmes into lower risk groups,” it said.
It advised the countries to use evidence-based public health and social measures for monitoring the situation. The committee also asked the countries to implement a risk-management approach for mass gathering events by evaluating and mitigating risks.
Further, it told the countries not to require vaccination as the only condition for allowing international travel, given “limited global access and inequitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines”. It also advised recognising all coronavirus vaccines that have received the WHO Emergency Use Listing for international travel.
Last month, many member-states of the European Union had begun issuing a digital vaccine passport to facilitate movement for work and tourism. The “vaccine passport” programme recognises a few Covid-19 vaccines whose beneficiaries are able to travel in and out of Europe. The programme includes the AstraZeneca vaccine but not Covishield, which is produced in India, creating hurdles for travellers from India.
Globally, the coronavirus disease has infected over 18.88 crore people and killed over 40.65 lakh since the pandemic broke out in December 2019, according to Johns Hopkins University.