The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus has said that Covid-19 is “easily the most severe” global health crisis the world has faced. During a press briefing this week, Ghebreyesus stated that “Covid-19 has changed our world,” and “has shown what humans are capable of – both positively and negatively.”
The claim comes as global cases top 16 million confirmed coronavirus cases, with almost 5 million of these coming from the US alone. At time of writing, there have been 654,327 deaths as the world enters its sixth month since the WHO declared the Covid-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, something which has only happened six times. Declarations of this severity include polio in 2014, Ebola also in 2014, Zika virus in 2016, Kivu Ebola in 2018, and finally Covid-19 in 2020.
"This is the sixth time a global health emergency has been declared under the International Health Regulations, but it is easily the most severe," Dr Tedros said.
When the novel coronavirus first broke on an international scale, there was much discussion comparing it to the annual outbreak of the influenza virus, but as time has proven this was never the case. Covid-19 has challenged health organizations and governments across the globe as its high R-rate and elusive arsenal of symptoms made both control and treatment enormously challenging. Comparisons to the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 reveal that in the seven months since the WHO first began investigating Covid-19, it has already killed more people compared to the least conservative estimates for the novel swine flu’s first year.
As part of the group of viruses known as coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 is just one of many pathogens that to date have eluded vaccines. Both severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) caused outbreaks in 2002 and 2012 respectively, but an effective vaccine has never been created for a coronavirus. As an outbreak, it therefore faces us with a much greater challenge than influenza outbreaks for which historically effective vaccines have been made, though promising research is underway across the globe.
In the press briefing, Dr Tedros acknowledged that despite global lockdown measures Covid continues to thrive in some parts of the globe. But he also highlighted that areas where measures such as social distancing and protective face masks are being respected continue to be the areas where the virus is best under control. “Where these measures are followed, cases go down. Where they’re not, cases go up,” he said.
“We are not prisoners of the pandemic. Every single one of us can make a difference. The future is in our hands.”