Coronavirus "may never go away," warns World Health Organization
As the brightest minds and richest countries of the globe are working on a self-imposed deadline to find the cure for coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the deadly virus "may never go away". It could become just another endemic virus and could never be eradicated completely, Michael Ryan, the WHO's emergencies director, said at a virtual press-meet in Geneva on Wednesday.
After having originated in China in December 2019, the COVID-19 disease spread globally killing 298,174 and infecting 4,429,744. The United States has been ripped apart where a maximum number, 85,197 people, died. 31,106 lost their lives in Europe's hotspot Italy, and in Spain 27,104 passed away. In India, 2,551 have died and 78,055 have been infected by the virus.
Citing the example of HIV, Ryan said the world learned to live with it and isn't as scared as before. The same could happen with coronavirus, which would eventually become a fact of life, he asserted. Tamping down expectations that a vaccine might end this misery, he added, "There are no promises in this and there are no dates."
Worldwide, more than 100 potential vaccines are being developed, including some in clinical trials. But Ryan said no one knows when a "good vaccine" will come. It's a moonshot, he added. "It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away," he went on.
"Even though an effective vaccine might be developed, it would require immense work to produce sufficient doses and distribute them worldwide. Every single one of those steps is fraught with challenges," he added. "It is very hard to predict when we will prevail over it."
The possibility that infected people become immune could be the globe's weapon against this virus. If enough people would have contracted the virus, then managing outbreaks would become easier. But no one knows how long this will take. "The current number of people in our population who've been infected is actually relatively low," Ryan said. The only human disease which was eradicated is smallpox.
Meanwhile, WHO's infectious disease epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove painted an optimistic picture. "The trajectory of this outbreak is in our hands. The global community has come together to work in solidarity. We have seen countries bring this virus under control. We have seen countries use public health measures," Van Kerkhove said. And WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged everyone to fight together.
Tedros noted several countries want to ease restrictions but there is a fear of the second wave of infections. "There is some magical thinking going on that lockdowns work perfectly and that unlocking lockdowns will go great. Both are fraught with dangers," Ryan added. Notably, the UN wants countries to invest in mental healthcare as the pandemic has caused distress to thousands.