More than half of the global population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
But the threat of more variants means it is too early to assume victory over the virus — even amid declining cases, says the World Health Organization.
“It’s encouraging to see that deaths from COVID-19 are now declining globally and in most regions. And it’s pleasing to see some countries being able to relax restrictions without their health systems being overwhelmed,” said WHO Secretary-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday.
“But it’s far too early to declare victory over COVID-19. There are still many countries with high rates of hospitalization and death, and low rates of vaccine coverage and with high transmission. The threat of a new and more dangerous variant remains very real.”
Tedros said 56 per cent of people around the world are now fully vaccinated, though only nine per cent of people in low-income countries are among that number.
Many of the constraints in getting broader access to vaccines last year are easing, with 1.3 billion doses delivered so far through the COVAX vaccine-sharing partnership, he added.
“The supply outlook for this year is positive.”
The recent Omicron wave led to huge case spikes in many countries, including Canada, over the last three months.
While cases have plateaued or are declining in many parts of the country, other countries are still grappling with the upswing of the current wave caused by the exponentially more-infectious variant.
A sub-variant, B.A.2, is also circulating and the effect it may have remains unclear.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam has said it appears that Canada is through the peak of the Omicron wave, and many provinces are now lifting nearly all public health measures in a move that has raised concerns from many doctors about whether it is wise.
Ontario lifted vaccine mandates and capacity limits over the last two weeks, and Premier Doug Ford has said he hopes to be able to lift mask mandates in the near future.
Many of the criticisms, though, have focused on the fact that even as variants like Omicron show some ability to evade aspects of vaccine protections, masks remain a highly effective and easy method of both limiting spread and protecting individuals.
Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca accused Ford of wanting to “let it rip,” and warned doing so could have huge consequences if cases and hospitalizations spike as a result.
“I mean, everybody is tired, everybody is exhausted dealing with COVID. To make some small steps forward, as important as that is, but have to go backwards, at this point, I think would be devastating for Ontarians,” he said.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, who is the WHO’s technical lead on the COVID-19 response, was asked on Wednesday whether the organization is facing political pressure to declare an end to the pandemic.
She did not directly answer, but said it is clear things are not yet over.
“I think we would like nothing more than to say that this pandemic is over. But unfortunately, we’re not there yet, with the fact that we are still seeing incredibly intense transmission of Omicron worldwide,” she said.
“Many countries have passed their peak. Many have not.”