The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be winding down, with hospitalization and death totals cratering around the world, and even the likes of Dr Anthony Fauci saying that the United States may be past that phase of the virus’s lifespan, but some key figures at the World Health Organization (WHO) are still issuing dire warnings.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO warned that people still needed to be weary of the virus, and that decreases in overall testing and Covid surveillance in many countries left the world at risk to a resurgence of the virus.
On the same day, the WHO also reported that 15,668 people across the world had died of Covid over a seven day period, one of the lowest figures since the pandemic first erupted in March 2020.
Also on Tuesday, Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and chief medical officer during the pandemic, told PBS’s NewsHour that he believed America had moved beyond the pandemic phase of the virus, as case and death figures remain low.
America is currently recording 54,840 daily Covid infections, a 45 percent increase over the past week – but more than 90 percent lower than the virus’s peak of 800,000 per day. Daily death totals have dropped 14 percent over the past week, to 363 per day.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (left), director-general of the WHO, warned that pulling back Covid testing and surveillance would leave the world blind. Dr Anthony Fauci (right), the nation’s top infectious disease expert said Tuesday that he believes America has moved beyond the pandemic phase of Covid
‘[Rolling back of Covid surveillance] makes us increasingly blind to patterns of transmission and evolution. But this virus won’t go away just because countries stop looking for it. It’s still spreading, it’s still changing, and it’s still killing,’ Ghebreyesus said.
Across America, and in some parts of Europe, Covid testing and tracking has been significantly scaled back as officials move to divert funding that went into pandemic related efforts elsewhere.
In the U.S., funding used to cover the costs of free testing for many Americans has been pulled. Hospital treatment for the virus is no longer covered by the federal government either. Cuts to testing have been so severe that some experts warn over 90 percent of cases may be going undetected in the U.S.
‘The threat of a dangerous new variant remains very real – and although deaths are declining, we still don’t understand the long-term consequences of infection in those who survive,’ Ghebreyesus continued.
‘When it comes to a deadly virus, ignorance is not bliss. WHO continues to call on all countries to maintain surveillance.’
The WHO has been among the more cautious, even contrarian, voices throughout the pandemic, continuously issuing grave warnings about the state of the virus while many began to enjoy dips between surges.
One of the other most-cautious voices during Covid has been Fauci, who serves as director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease, but even he is starting to relax on the state of the virus.
On Tuesday, he told the NewsHour that America is beyond the pandemic, though it is still existing elsewhere in the world.
‘If you’re saying, are we out of the pandemic phase in this country, we are. What we hope to do, I don’t believe — and I have spoken about this widely — we’re not going to eradicate this virus. If we can keep that level very low, and intermittently vaccinate people — and I don’t know how often that would have to be,’ he said.
‘That might be every year, that might be longer, in order to keep that level low. But, right now, we are not in the pandemic phase in this country. Pandemic means a widespread, throughout the world, infection that spreads rapidly among people.
‘If you look at the global situation, there’s no doubt this pandemic is still ongoing.’
This recent shift in public opinion on the pandemic, even among the most cautious of health officials, has also been reflected in recent changes to Covid related mandates and orders – though not every part of America is playing ball.
Covid restrictions have been lifted almost everywhere in America. One of the few existing mandates left is in New York City, where residents are still required to wear masks on the subway, public busses and at the airport.
Masks are also required on public transit in Los Angeles. Philadelphia also brought back its mask order for four days last week before almost immediately lifting them again.
Children under five years of age in the New York City public school system are still subject to ‘close-contact restrictions’ including mask wearing, a bizarre break from the rest of the city where there is no indoor mask mandate even as medical experts and virologists widely agree that the risk of children becoming seriously ill or dying from Covid is extremely low.
The federal government’s nationwide mask order for public transit, commercial flights and transportation centers was dismissed by a federal judge earlier this month.
Covid cases are starting to rise in a majority of America, though, with 42 states now recording case increases in their official figures.
Some of this may be due to sporadic data reporting, with numbers heavily fluctuating daily based on how the state has changed the way it reports daily figures in recent weeks.