The number of reported deaths worldwide from COVID-19 was the lowest last week since March 2020 – a positive sign that the end of the pandemic that has killed at least six million people is in view, the World Health Organization says.
Globally, the number of new weekly deaths decreased by 22 per cent the week of Sept. 5-11 compared to the previous week, with just under 11,000 fatalities reported, according to WHO data.
The number of new weekly cases also decreased by 28 per cent last week, with more than 3.1 million new cases reported.
While WHO cautions these case numbers are an “underestimate” due to testing strategies by many countries that result in lower overall detections, the current downward trends are cause for optimism.
“We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We’re not there yet, but the end is in sight,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday during a briefing in Geneva.
However, now is not the time for countries to let their guard down, Tedros warned.
“A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view. She runs harder with all the energy she has left. So must we,” he said.
“We can see the finish line. We are in a winning position. But now is the worst time to stop running.”
“Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.”
While cases have been decreasing across the country in the last few weeks, the virus continues to infect and kill Canadians. The latest available data from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) shows there were 18,366 new cases of COVID-19 in Canada during the week of Aug. 28 to Sept. 3 and 238 new deaths.
This represents a 12 per cent drop in new cases and a nine per cent decrease in fatalities from the previous week in Canada.
Meanwhile, this week the UN agency is releasing six policy briefs that outline key actions it believes all governments must take to lower the number of COVID-19 cases further worldwide and bring an end to the pandemic.
These policy briefs are an “urgent call for governments to take a hard look at their policies and strengthen them” not only to fight COVID-19, but also to protect against future pathogens with pandemic potential, Tedros said.
The advice includes calls for countries to invest in vaccinating 100 per cent those most at risk of severe illness or death, including health workers and seniors, and to strive for 70 per cent vaccine coverage for the overall population. It also calls for continued testing and sequencing for SARS-CoV-2 and more integrated surveillance and testing services for other respiratory diseases, including influenza.
WHO is also urging countries to continue to plan for future surges of cases and to maintain infection prevention and control measures to protect health workers and non-COVID patients in health facilities.
And while case numbers are declining, countries will continue to experience waves of COVID-19 infections as the virus continues to mutate and find new ways of evading immunity, said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19.
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“But those future waves of infection do not need to translate into future waves of death, because we have tools that can prevent infections and prevent transmissions” she said, pointing to COVID-19 vaccines and antivirals like Paxlovid, both of which prevent severe disease and death.
Tedros vowed that WHO would continue to work to provide tools, information and support as the virus continues to circulate, including helping low-income countries access and manufacture vaccines and bringing the world’s experts together to share the latest scientific knowledge, monitor trends, analyze evidence and advise the world.
“That’s what we will continue to do until the pandemic is truly over,” Tedros said.
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