Trinidad and Tobago
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WHO: Pandemic at ‘transition point’

Narissa Fraser The covid19 virus as seen under a high-powered microscope. AP Photo
The covid19 virus as seen under a high-powered microscope. AP Photo

THE World Health Organization (WHO) has opted to continue with covid being a pandemic and a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), but noted it is probably "at a transition point."

This was decided after a meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) emergency committee on Friday.

The IHR defines a PHEIC as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response."

In a statement, the WHO said it appreciates the committee's advice to navigate this transition carefully and mitigate the potential negative consequences."

It said the world is in a "better place" compared to the peak of the transition of the Omicron variant, over 17,000 covid19-related deaths have been reported in the last eight weeks.

"In addition, surveillance and genetic sequencing have declined globally, making it more difficult to track known variants and detect new ones.

"Health systems are currently struggling with covid and caring for patients with influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, health workforce shortages, and fatigued health workers."

It urged countries to remain vigilant and said it will continue to work closely with them all.

"The committee was informed that, globally, 13.1 billion doses of covid19 vaccines have been administered, with 89 per cent of health workers and 81 per cent of older adults (over 60 years) having completed the primary series.

"Significant progress has also been made in: developing effective medical countermeasures, building global capacity for genomic sequencing and genomic epidemiology, and in understanding how to manage the infodemic in the new informational ecosystem including social media platforms."

At the meeting, the effectiveness of the PHEIC was discussed, with committee members expressing concern about the ongoing risk posed by the pandemic.

"They recognised that pandemic fatigue and reduced public perception of risk have led to drastically reduced use of public health and social measures, such as masks and social distancing.

"Vaccine hesitancy and the continuing spread of misinformation continue to be extra hurdles to the implementation of crucial public health interventions."

The committee recommended that the WHO develop a proposal for alternative mechanisms to maintain the focus on the pandemic after the PHEIC is terminated.

Some of the temporary recommendations suggested by the WHO include the continuation of vaccination, improvement of surveillance data, supporting research for improved vaccines, among other things.

Locally, the Health Ministry has reported a total of 323 new cases from January 25-31, with seven more deaths. There are now 318 active cases. The total covid-related deaths to date in TT stands at 4,326.