‘The big one’: WHO warns future pandemics could be worse than coronavirus

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: WHO comments on travel restrictions amid new virus variant'
Coronavirus: WHO comments on travel restrictions amid new virus variant
WATCH: WHO comments on travel restrictions amid new virus variant. – Dec 28, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 1.7 million people, destroyed economies and pushed hospitals to the brink of collapse.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that despite the severity, the pandemic is not “necessarily the big one.”

Speaking at a media conference on Monday, the head of the WHO emergencies program, Dr. Mark Ryan, said if there’s one thing to take away from this pandemic, is that “we need to get ready for something which may be more severe in the future.”

“This pandemic has been very severe, it has spread around the world extremely quickly and has affected every corner of this planet,” Ryan said. “But this is not necessarily the big one. This virus is very transmissible and kills people, it has deprived so many people of loved ones. But its current case fatality is reasonably low in comparison to other emerging diseases. This is a wake-up call.”

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READ MORE: Next pandemic will be ‘more damaging’ if lessons aren’t learned from COVID-19, panel says

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He added that the threats will continue, and because our planet is so “fragile,” we must learn from the coronavirus pandemic and “get our act together.”

Ryan also said that there is a possibility of never eradicating COVID-19 — despite the recent rollout of safe vaccines.

“The likely scenario is the virus will become another endemic virus that will remain somewhat of a threat, but a very low-level threat in the context of an effective global vaccination program,” he said.

“It remains to be seen how well the vaccines are taken up, how close we get to a coverage level that might allow us the opportunity to go for elimination,” he said. “The existence of a vaccine, even at high efficacy, is no guarantee of eliminating or eradicating an infectious disease,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: WHO official says next few months ‘are going to be tough’ despite vaccine approval'
Coronavirus: WHO official says next few months ‘are going to be tough’ despite vaccine approval

The warning comes more than two weeks after a highly contagious coronavirus variant was announced by the British government.

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The strain, referred to by some experts as the B.1.1.7 lineage, is not the first new variant of COVID-19, but it has rapidly become the dominant strain in cases of COVID-19 in many parts of the United Kingdom. To date, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness.

On Dec. 26, Canada reported its first two cases of the coronavirus variant that was found in the U.K. The variant has also spread to Australia, Japan and several European countries.

The WHO previously said that the newly authorized vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna, should still work against the new coronavirus variant.

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