WHO official says pandemic ‘far from over’

A World Health Organisation spokeswoman says the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is a long way off, citing a rise in cases in its latest weekly data.

The United Nations health agency has previously said that the acute phase of the pandemic could end this year but it would depend on how quickly we meet its target to vaccinate 70 per cent of the population in each country, among other factors.

Asked by a journalist at a Geneva media briefing about the timing of the pandemic’s end, Margaret Harris said it was “far from over”. 

“We are definitely in the middle of the pandemic,” she added.

After more than a month of decline, COVID-19 cases started to increase around the world last week, the WHO said.

A combination of factors was causing the increases, including the highly transmissible Omicron variant and its cousin the BA.2 sub-variant and the lifting of public health and social measures, the WHO said.

The German parliament voted on Friday to lift the country’s restrictions introduced during the last two years to stem the pandemic, despite persistently high infection rates.

The legislation has been roundly lambasted by state premiers, who say it reduces the measures available to them. 

The federal government responds that, while many health restrictions are set aside, they can be reinstated if a state declares a zone with an outbreak to be a “hostpot”.

The measure was supported by 364 members of the Bundestag while 277 voted against it and two deputies abstained.

The bill was brought forward by the coalition government of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats while every opposition party opposed the move.

The incidence rate, representing coronavirus cases per 100,000 people during a one-week period, reached another new record on Friday of 1706.3, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach defended the easing in comments to the Bundestag, calling it a “heavy compromise”.

“We can’t continue to shield the whole country to protect a small group of those unwilling to be vaccinated and those not willing to go along with the measures to protect them,” he said.

The SPD minister, a trained epidemiologist, added that the milder Omicron variant of the coronavirus was resulting in less pressure on hospitals.

Later Friday, Germany’s second house of parliament, the Bundesrat, which is made up of representatives from the 16 federal states, also approved the bill.

The legislation means mask requirements will fall away everywhere except in facilities where vulnerable people are housed.

States, however, will still be able to require face coverings on public transport.


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