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Two Chinese, a man and a woman, both wearing mediacal masks and riding bikes along a deserted street, look up through the night fog at the illuminated CCTV headquarters building in Beijing, China
Coronavirus policies may be loosened but that does not mean the virus is going away anytime soonImage: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
HealthGlobal issues

WHO says 'not there yet' on coronavirus

December 2, 2022

The head of the world health body said an estimated 90% of people had some resistance to COVID-19 but infections are up, and he warned of new variants. News China may loosen COVID-19 measures was welcomed by the WHO.


The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday estimated that as much as 90% of the world's population now has some resistance to COVID-19, while at the same time warning that diminishing vigilance could leave the door open for new variants to evolve.

"WHO estimates that at least 90% of the world's population now has some level of immunity to SARS-CoV-2, due to prior infection or vaccination," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.

"We are much closer to being able to say that the emergency phase of the pandemic is over — but we're not there yet. Gaps in surveillance, testing, sequencing and vaccination are continuing to create the perfect conditions for a new variant of concern to emerge that could cause significant mortality."

Tedros Ghebreyesus: Coronavirus does not go away because countries stop looking for it

Tedros warns of dangerous new variants

Tedros noted that last weekend marked one year since the WHO named omicron a so-called variant of concern. It has since swept the world and Tedros warned that at least 500 other highly transmissible omicron variants are currently in circulation.

He said despite some infections being less severe, new variants have shown they can evade built-up immunity.

With infections on the rise again in the UK and at record highs in China, the WHO is urging governments around the world to increase efforts to protect the most vulnerable, such as those over 60 or with underlying health conditions. 

Last week, more than 8,500 people died as a result of COVID-19, which Tedros said, "is not acceptable three years into the pandemic, when we have so many tools to prevent infections and save lives."

The WHO says it has officially registered 6.6 million deaths from nearly 640 million cases since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2019. It notes, however, that this is a massive undercount that does not reflect the actual number of dead.

COVID cases hit new record in China

WHO welcomes China relaxing COVID-19 rules

China this week signaled that it may ease its harsh zero-COVID approach after a week of rare, widespread anti-government protests over what citizens see as extreme government coronavirus restrictions.

Speaking with European Union President Charles Michel on Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping hinted at change, claiming the fact that most infections in China were of the milder omicron variant, "opens the way for more openness of the restrictions than what we have already seen in some regions."

WHO Emergencies Director Michael Ryan said the body was, "pleased to learn that the Chinese authorities are adjusting their current strategies," striking a balance between control mechanisms and the lives of communities who have "suffered" under the country's strict zero-COVID policies.

Protests in China are "very unfortunate": Victor Gao, Center for China and Globalization

js/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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