Amidst surging COVID numbers, WHO chief urges: ‘take heart and take action’

25 January 2021

The sheer scale of the numbers involved in the COVID-19 pandemic can “make us numb to what they represent”, the UN health agency chief said on Monday, reminding journalists in his latest briefing, that each one stands for “a person, a story”. As of late Monday, confirmed cases were nearing 99 million, and yet another grim milestone as 100 million cases looms. 

Every death is someone’s parent, partner, child, or friend, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organiztion (WHO), told the briefing. He noted that exactly a year ago, fewer than 1,500 cases of COVID-19 had been reported.

‘Take heart, take hope’ 

Vaccines have given the world hope, which, according to the WHO chief is why “every life we lose now is even more tragic”. 

“We must take heart, take hope and take action”, he said, reiterating his call for health workers and older people in all countries to be vaccinated within the first 100 days of 2021. 

Brink of catastrophe 

Last week, Tedros said that the world stood on “the brink of a catastrophic moral failure” if it does not deliver equitable access to vaccines.  

Two new studies show that “it wouldn’t just be a moral failure, it would be an economic failure" too, he said. 

An International Labour Organization (ILO) analysis released on Monday, found that $3.7 trillion was lost last year in terms of working hours. 

While the report projected that most countries will recover in the second half of 2021, depending on vaccination rollout, it recommends international assistance for low and middle income countries to support vaccine rollout and promote economic and job recovery programmes. 

At the same time, a study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation, makes a strong economic case for vaccine equity.  

“It finds that vaccine nationalism could cost the global economy up to $9.2 trillion, and almost half of that – $4.5 trillion – would be incurred in the wealthiest economies”, the WHO chief said. 

Growing vaccine divide   

Meanwhile a financing gap for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator this year stands at $26 billion, according to the UN official, saying that if fully funded, it would return up to $166 “for every dollar invested”. 

While so-called vaccine nationalism “might serve short-term political goals”, he upheld that it is in every nation’s own medium and long-term economic interest to support "vaccine equity”, reminding that until the pandemic is ended everywhere, it won’t be eradicated anywhere. 

“As we speak, rich countries are rolling out vaccines, while the world’s least-developed countries watch and wait”, he said. “Every day that passes, the divide grows larger between the world’s haves and have nots”. 


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