On Wednesday (Apr 26), the WHO reported that COVID-19 deaths had decreased by 95% since the start of the year.
However, the organization cautioned that the virus still continued to spread and that countries needed to learn how to manage its ongoing non-emergency effects, such as post-COVID-19 condition or long COVID.
WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated at a press conference that the sustained decline in reported deaths from COVID-19, which began at the start of this year, was very encouraging.
“However, some countries are seeing increases, and over the past four weeks, 14,000 people lost their lives to this disease.
“And, as the emergence of the new XBB.1.16 variant illustrates, the virus is still changing, and is still capable of causing new waves of disease and death.”
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said XBB sub-lineages were now dominant worldwide.
They have an increase in growth advantage and are also showing immune escape, meaning people can be reinfected despite having been vaccinated or previously infected.
She called for increased surveillance through testing “so that we can monitor the virus itself and understand what each of these mutations means”.
That knowledge could feed into vaccine composition and inform decisions on handling the virus, she said.
Tedros reiterated that the WHO remained hopeful of declaring an end to COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern, with the committee that advises him on the status due to convene next month for its regular quarterly meeting.
“But this virus is here to stay, and all countries will need to learn to manage it alongside other infectious diseases,” he added.
Tedros meanwhile said that an estimated one in 10 infections resulted in long COVID, suggesting that hundreds of millions of people would need longer-term care.