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WHO warning on COVID-19: 'Not even close to being over. Worst is yet to come'

World Health Organization's Director General also dismissed complaints from countries complaining that contact tracing is too difficult to implement as a control strategy for the COVID-19 pandemic as “lame”.

June 30, 2020 / 11:06 AM IST

The worst in the novel coronavirus pandemic could be still to come, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, six months on from when the outbreak began.

WHO has said that the pandemic was “accelerating,” particularly in the Americas.

“The hard reality is that this is not even close to being over,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing on June 29. “The worst is yet to come.”

He noted that June 30 would mark six months since WHO was first informed by China of an unusual cluster of pneumonia cases, the first sign of coronavirus' emergence. The disease has since sickened more than one crore people and killed about five lakh.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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The WHO head also dismissed complaints from countries complaining that contact tracing is too difficult to implement as a control strategy for the COVID-19 pandemic as “lame.”

The UN health agency has repeatedly advised countries that curbing their COVID-19 outbreaks requires having a strong contact tracing programme in place, a labour-intensive process of tracking down contacts of people with coronavirus to ensure those at risk isolate themselves.

In recent months, countries with large COVID-19 outbreaks, including Britain and the United States, have said there are simply too many contacts to trace for an effective system to be put into place.

Britain had vowed to have a “world-class” contact tracing system in place earlier this month. But the United Kingdom ultimately ditched the digital app it developed for that purpose and politicians have acknowledged the program is not yet running at full strength despite recruiting thousands of workers.

In recent weeks, British health officials have said their contact tracers are failing to reach about one quarter of people with the virus — leaving thousands of people free to pass on COVID-19.

The WHO chief pointed to his emergencies director Dr Michael Ryan as an example of someone willing to go to extraordinary lengths to conduct contact tracing, citing Ryan's work — while wearing a bulletproof helmet and vest — during an Ebola outbreak in a part of Congo where armed groups had attacked and killed health workers.

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“He believed he had to do everything to stop Ebola and to show that saving lives actually requires that level of commitment,” Tedros said.

Tedros said it was not acceptable that some countries claimed there were too many contacts to trace and that the process itself was too difficult.

He has previously lauded the contact tracing programmes adopted by countries like South Korea, Singapore and China, which involved teams of health workers tracing tens of thousands of people and ensuring that those exposed to the virus were isolated.

Tedros said that well-resourced countries that are not fighting wars have little excuse for not carrying out good contact tracing.

“If contact tracing helps you to win the fight, you do it, even (when) risking your life," he said. “If any country is saying contact tracing is difficult, it is a lame excuse.”

(With inputs from the Associated Press)

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