W.H.O. Official Says Covid Pandemic Is ‘Not Necessarily the Big One’

One of the World Health Organization’s senior officials warned on Monday that although the coronavirus pandemic has been “very severe,” it is “not necessarily the big one.”

Reflecting on the year in the W.H.O.’s final media briefing of 2020, the head of the emergencies program, Michael Ryan, said that his words may come as a shock.

More than 1.7 million people worldwide have died this year from Covid-19, more than 81 million cases have been recorded and the spread of the coronavirus has been unrelenting in many countries.

“These threats will continue,” Dr. Ryan said. “If there’s one thing we need to take from this pandemic with all the tragedy and loss is that we need to get our act together. We need to get ready for something that may even be more severe in the future.”

Dr. Ryan acknowledged that much progress has been made on improving how we communicate and govern during this pandemic, but, he said, this year was a “wake up call” and “we must honor those we’ve lost by getting better at what we do every day.”

Striking a similarly solemn tone, David Heymann, the chair of the W.H.O.’s strategic and technical advisory group for infectious hazards, predicted that SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, would become endemic, like the other human coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS that have spread in recent years.

Coronavirus vaccination programs, the W.H.O. said, would be integral to saving lives and protecting vulnerable people.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director general, promised that the organization would “not rest until those in need everywhere, in all countries, have access to vaccines and are protected.”

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