COVID-19 cases near highest globally since start of pandemic: WHO chief
The number of new COVID-19 cases per week has nearly doubled globally over the past two months, approaching the highest rate seen so far during the pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday, Daily Sabah reports.
At a press briefing focused on Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Western Pacific region, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that "cases and deaths are continuing to increase at worrying rates."
Tedros said some countries that had been able to avoid widespread COVID-19 outbreaks are now seeing steep increases, citing PNG as an example. He said he was very worried about the potential for a much larger epidemic in PNG, and it was vital the country received more COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible. The country has now identified more than 9,000 cases and 83 deaths, half of which were reported in the last month.
"Until the beginning of this year, Papua New Guinea had reported less than 900 cases and nine deaths,” Tedros said. "Papua New Guinea is a perfect example of why vaccine equity is so important,” Tedros said, adding that the Pacific island nation has relied on vaccine donations from Australia and the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative. To date, COVAX has shipped about 40 million vaccines to more than 100 countries, or enough to protect about 0.25% of the world’s population.
"While these numbers are still smaller than other countries, the increase is sharp and WHO is very concerned about the potential for a much larger epidemic," Tedros said.
PNG Health Minister Jelta Wong said there was an ongoing challenge in the country to get people to wear masks and disbelief about the disease itself, which would complicate efforts to roll out vaccines. WHO officials said three emergency medical teams had arrived in PNG this week from Australia, the United States and Germany.
"The situation is extremely challenging right now," Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said of PNG.