COVID-19: WHO presents 2023 outlook

Three years since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and as the number of infections increase in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reviewed the past year and discussed the outlook for 2023.

Concerns as pandemic resumes in China

WHO says it is very concerned about the COVID-19 surge in China, where there are reports of severe cases of the disease. The organisation stressed the need for more information from the Chinese authorities.

“We believe that the current numbers being published from China underrepresents the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths,” WHO’s Emergencies Director Dr. Mike Ryan told a news conference.

The European Union “strongly encourages” its Member States to introduce a negative COVID-19 test for all passengers departing from China, and to complement this with “random testing” upon arrival and “sequencing of positive results” in order to identify possible new variants. In England, people flying from mainland China are asked to take a pre-departure test.

Decline in number of cases

The rate of new infections and deaths over the last fifteen days is decreasing globally, with some rare exceptions.

Despite great disparities in vaccination among Europeans, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control considers that EU countries have a significant immunisation level. The UK Office for National Statistics says vaccines have effectively reduced the impact of infections on hospitalisations and deaths.

Looking back on 2022

2022 was marked by the emergence of Omicron as it spread and became the dominant variant worldwide.

Approximately 360 million cases were reported to WHO in 2022, representing more than half of COVID-19 cases reported since the start of the pandemic, and more than during the previous two years combined. The number of positive tests almost tripled in 2022. It rose to 20% from 7% during the first two years of the pandemic.

In 2022, approximately 1.2 million people are estimated to have died from COVID-19, representing one in five deaths.

The number of deaths is declining overall, with between 8,000 and 10,000 deaths per week reported.

The number of doses of vaccine administered has halved between 2021 and 2022, with a little over four billion doses given.

Huge disparities in immunisation still exist. In low-income countries, only one in five people have been vaccinated.

Access to diagnostics and life-saving treatments for COVID-19 remains, according to WHO, “unacceptably unaffordable and unequal.”

We need to better understand, invest in, and plan the response to this long-standing condition, which WHO says still raises many questions.

Towards the end of the “global emergency” 

Based on current trends, WHO remains hopeful that by the end of 2023, the COVID-19 emergency can be ended worldwide.

WHO stresses that more effort is needed to advance science and strengthen prevention.

The organisation and its partners also remain concerned that they do not have sufficient data to rapidly and reliably assess COVID-19 variants.

They are also concerned that surveillance for potential human-animal transmission is limited. Some scientists fear that the next major variant could come from such contacts.

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