Although the global number of new Covid-19 cases has fallen for the fifth consecutive week, the world is still not out of the woods and now is not the time to let the guard down, senior officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) have warned.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing here on Thursday that last week saw the lowest number of reported weekly cases since October 2020.
Since the beginning of 2021, the number of reported weekly cases has fallen by almost half, from more than five million at the beginning of January to 2.7 million in the week starting February 8.
"This shows that simple public health measures work, even in the presence of variants," Tedros said.
Alongside Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the WHO on Monday authorized two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use. These latter now have the green light to be rolled out globally through Covax, a WHO-led international initiative for equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.
Another other vaccines, developed by Chinese companies Sinopharm and Sinovac, are also currently undergoing evaluation.
At Thursday's briefing, Tedros called on vaccine manufacturers to scale up production and submit their dossiers to the WHO for review at the same time as they submit them to regulators in high-income countries.
While several countries have been progressing with their rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Program, has recently cautioned that vaccine production and vaccination at the current scale are far from enough to stop transmission of the virus.
Ryan emphasized that simple and basic public health measures, such as washing hands, wearing masks and keeping social distance, still play a crucial role in controlling infections.
He said at Thursday's briefing that almost all countries and certainly all regions are seeing a downward trend in newly confirmed Covid-19 cases, and this needs to continue to be supported.
However, in springtime people in the northern hemisphere will increasingly want to celebrate various festivals and holidays after more than a year of pandemic fatigue.
"We have to be very careful. We're certainly not out of the woods yet," Ryan warned.
Dr. Mariangela Simao, assistant WHO director general for access to medicines, vaccines and pharmaceuticals, cautioned that this was not the time to "let our guard down because we have seen the numbers (of Covid-19 cases) coming down in some countries before just to see them go up again."
The WHO on Thursday launched its second "Covid-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan" (SPRP) for 2021 that would require 1.96 billion US dollars in contributions from the WHO's member states.
The WHO launched its first strategic plan for Covid-19 last year by asking for 1.7 billion US dollars and eventually raising 1.58 billion US dollars, more than 90 percent of which was allocated to countries and regions in vital funding to those working on the frontline of the pandemic as well as supporting the WHO's core scientific and technical work.