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COVID-19 pandemic ‘nowhere near over’: WHO chief

The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, the World Health Organization chief said Tuesday, cautioning against a narrative that the fast-spreading omicron variant is risk-free.

“This pandemic is nowhere near over,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters from WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.

Tedros warned against dismissing as mild the coronavirus variant omicron, which has spread like wildfire around the globe since it was first detected in southern Africa in November.

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The omicron variant of COVID-19 is much more contagious than previous strains but seems to cause less serious disease.

That has triggered a debate on the virus passing from being a pandemic to becoming endemic – with the implication that the danger will have passed.
But the WHO has warned that the sheer numbers of people infected will mean many vulnerable people are still falling seriously ill and dying.

“Omicron may be less severe, on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” Tedros said.

“Make no mistake: Omicron is causing hospitalizations and deaths, and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities.”

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He said there were indications that the omicron-fueled surge of COVID-19 cases may have peaked in some countries.

This, he said, “gives hope that the worst of this latest wave is done with, but no country is out of the woods yet.”

Tedros said there was an urgent need to remove the pressure building on health systems, especially in countries that still have low vaccination coverage.

“Now is not the time to give up and wave the white flag,” he said.

“We can still significantly reduce the impact of the current wave by sharing and using health tools effectively, and implementing public health and social measures that we know work.”

Data indicate that existing COVID-19 vaccines are less effective in protecting against omicron transmission than against previous strains.

But Tedros stressed it remained vital to ensure broader, more equitable access to the jabs.

“Vaccines may be less effective at preventing infection and transmission of omicron than they were for previous variants, but they still are exceptionally good at preventing serious disease and death,” he said.

Health experts warn that allowing COVID-19 to spread unabated in some places dramatically increases the chance of new, more dangerous variants emerging.

“With the incredible growth of omicron globally, new variants are likely to emerge,” Tedros cautioned.

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North Korea’s fever cases under 200,000 for second day amid silence on aid offer

North Korea's daily fever cases stayed below 200,000 for a second day in a row, state media said on Monday, as Pyongyang remained silent on South Korean and US offers to help fight its first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak.

The COVID wave, declared on May 12, has fuelled concerns over a lack of vaccines, inadequate medical infrastructure and a potential food crisis in the country of 25 million.

US President Joe Biden said on Saturday that Washington had offered COVID-19 vaccines to China and North Korea, but “got no response.”

North Korea reported 167,650 new patients suffering from fever on Monday and one more death. More than 2.33 million of the 2.81 million cumulative cases reported since late April had recovered as of Sunday evening, the North's state news agency KCNA said. The official death toll stands at 68.

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While staying silent on the offer for help, North Korea has boasted of a “favorable turn” in the country's virus situation.

“The crisis and responsibility awareness is further enhanced in every region, sector, workplace and post across the country to maintain the favorable turn in the epidemic prevention work and all inroads of the epidemic are checked through the strict execution of regional and unit lockdown and blockade measures,” the KCNA said.

Such COVID-19 restrictions may be playing a role in North Korea's lack of response, a senior US administration official said Sunday.

Apparently deprived of testing supplies, North Korea has not confirmed the total number of people testing positive for the coronavirus. Instead, health authorities report the number with fever symptoms, making it difficult to assess the scale of the COVID wave, experts have said.

Authorities have distributed food and medicine across the country, with military medics deployed to help distribute drugs and conduct exams.

KCNA said pharmaceutical factories “are speeding up the production,” but did not elaborate which medicines were being produced.

Read more:

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Beijing city reports 63 new local COVID-19 cases over 24 hours

Beijing reported 63 new domestically transmitted COVID-19 infections during the 24 hours to 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) on Saturday, a disease control official at the Chinese capital said.

Of the infections, 56 were found in controlled areas and seven during community screening tests, Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director at Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control, told a news briefing.

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The city has recorded 1,399 COVID infections since April 22, Liu said.

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Biden says US has offered N.Korea COVID-19 vaccines but ‘got no response’

US President Joe Biden said Saturday that America had offered North Korea COVID-19 vaccines but “got no response” despite a spiraling epidemic in the isolated country.

“We've offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but to China as well and we're prepared to do that immediately," he said at a press conference in Seoul.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

“We've got no response,” he added.

For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

Read more:

North Korea hails ‘good results’ on COVID-19 as fever cases pass two million

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