Inconsistent, confused and complacent responses by governments to the coronavirus pandemic have drawn out the global health crisis, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, told a press briefing on Monday.
The WHO chief said that despite states having administered over 780 million COVID-19 vaccines, cases were still rising globally.
Since new infection rates stopped falling in February, there have been "seven consecutive weeks of increasing cases, and four weeks of increasing deaths."
Instead of a patchwork of varied responses, Ghebreyesus called for a "consistent, coordinated and comprehensive approach."
Governments need to enforce hygiene measures
The health organization chief slammed countries where "restaurants and nightclubs are full, markets are open and crowded with few people taking precautions" despite high infection rates.
Such failure to act means that "intensive care units in many countries are overflowing and people are dying – and it is totally avoidable," Ghebreyesus added.
As things stand, the pandemic is "a long way from over," but a concerted effort could bring things under control in a matter of months he said.
He made a call for the enforcement of public health measures such as wearing masks and social distancing, as well as ensuring equitable access to vaccines.
Equitable distribution of vaccines is an absolute necessity
He stressed the importance of the fair distribution of doses, saying that the current inequitable access "is not just a moral outrage, it is also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating."
Of the over 780 million doses administered globally, more than 87% have been given to people in high or upper-middle-income countries. Low-income countries have received just 0.2% of the globally produced vaccines.
A failure to vaccinate the global population quickly enough could result in new variants that sidestep the protections offered by the vaccine, thus dragging out the deadly pandemic for years to come.
"The more transmission, the more variants. And the more variants that emerge, the more likely it is that they will evade vaccines," the WHO director-general said.