As the government lifts most of the remaining Covid restrictions this week, the WHO has pushed back against claims that the pandemic is over.
Image: Getty Images)
The World Health Organization has responded to suggestions that Britain should learn to live with Covid-19 “as it does with the flu”.
Dr. David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy for covid-19, suggested that we may be “halfway through” the pandemic, with a number of dangerous new variants yet to emerge.
He told Sky News: “I keep wondering what the people making these incredible predictions know that I and my colleagues at the World Health Organization don’t.
“You see, what people are seeing around the world and reporting to the WHO is that this is still a very, very dangerous virus, especially for people who haven’t been vaccinated and who haven’t been exposed to it before.
“It can also mutate and form variants and we have seen several, but we know there are more not far away.
LightRocket via Getty Images)
“So honestly, we’re not saying this should be considered the flu or indeed anything else.
“It’s a new virus and we need to continue to treat it like it’s full of surprises, very nasty and quite cunning.”
The Government has removed the legal requirement to wear masks and declared that the UK has passed the Omicron peak.
Conservative MPs are pressing the Government to scrap remaining Covid-19 rules, such as the self-isolation requirement.
Asked if the end of the pandemic is in sight for countries in Europe, Dr. Nabarro said: “The end is in sight, but how long will it take to get there? What kind of difficulties will we face along the way?
“Those are the questions that none of us can answer because this virus keeps giving us challenges and surprises.”
He added: “It’s like we’re passing the half-marathon mark and we can see that yes, there is a finish and the fast runners are passing us.
“But we still have a long, long way to go and it’s going to be tough.”
Yesterday (Monday), the UK reported a further 88,447 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 56 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs: “There will soon come a time when we can completely remove the legal requirement to self-isolate, just as we don’t impose legal obligations on people to isolate themselves if they have the flu.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Sadly, people are also dying from the flu. In a bad flu year, you can sadly lose around 20,000 lives, but we don’t shut down our entire country or put in many restrictions to deal with that.
“We need to get on with our lives with sensible, appropriate and proportionate measures.”
At a press conference in Germany yesterday (Monday), WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is now entering its third year and we are at a critical moment.
“We must work together to end the acute phase of this pandemic. We cannot allow it to continue to drag on, teetering between panic and neglect.”
Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said: “The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful that we can end the emergency phase in 2022.”
A government adviser said it is not certain that the viruses will become less severe over time.
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said: “We have no way of concluding that viruses have to become less severe over time.
“It could be the next variant, and there will be another one, it could be more serious for all we know.
“There is no rule about this.”
He said reinfections, when someone tests positive again after a previous episode of Covid, are on the rise.
“Omicron and sub-lineages of them can escape previous immunity, so they will increase in number over time,” he added.
Scientists are concerned that a new variant, dubbed Stealth Omicron, could spread faster than the original version.
The strain, called Omicron BA.2, has been identified more than 420 times in the UK since November, with cases multiplying in parts of Europe and India.
BA.2 was classified last week as a “variant under investigation” by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
The Mirror Newsletter brings you breaking news, exciting TV and showbiz stories, sports updates and essential political information.
The newsletter is sent by email first thing in the morning, at 12 noon and every night.
Don’t miss a moment by subscribing to our newsletter here.
The data suggests that Denmark is currently the epicenter of the new variant, with more than 6,400 confirmed cases.
Virologist Dr Tom Peacock, from Imperial College London, said: “Even with slightly higher transmissibility, this is absolutely not a change from Delta to Omicron, and instead is likely to be slower and more subtle.
“That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if BA.2 slowly replaces [Omicron] in the coming months with slightly more “optimized” mutations.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.