WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday there were “worrying upward trends” in early epidemics in parts of Africa and central and South America.
“Most countries are still in the early stages of their epidemics and some that were affected early in the pandemic are starting to see a resurgence in cases,” Tedros told Geneva journalists in a virtual briefing.
“Make no mistake we have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time,” he said, while noting that epidemics in Western Europe appear to be stabilizing or declining.
The WHO’s top emergencies expert Dr. Mike Ryan warned against opening up global travel too quickly, saying it would require “careful risk management”.
He noted surges in infections in Africa such as a nearly 300 percent increase in cases in Somalia in the past week.
“We are at the beginning in Africa,” Ryan said.
The WHO officials urged countries to continue investing in preparedness, saying that only 76 percent had surveillance systems to detect cases.
“There are still many gaps in the world’s defenses and no single country has everything in place,” said Tedros.
Amid criticism that it should have acted earlier, Tedros defended the WHO‘s decision to declare an international emergency only on Jan. 30 – its highest level of alert.
“Looking back, I think we declared the emergency at the right time and when the world had enough time to respond,” said Tedros, adding that on that date there were only 82 COVID-19 cases outside of China and no deaths at the time.
Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, said that the world would need to learn to live with the new COVID-19 disease.
“This is not a discrete one-off episode. My belief is that this is now an endemic human infection…We’re going to have to find ways to deal with that,” he told an online media briefing.