Despite the severe global toll of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization warns that the outbreak is “not necessarily the big one” – and urges the world to get “serious” about preparedness.
“This is a wakeup call,” WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan said at a press conference Monday marking a year since the UN agency first learned of the new bug spreading in China.
Since emerging in Wuhan, COVID-19 has killed almost 1.8 million people around the world, out of over 81 million infected. In the US, about 335,000 people have died and over 19 million have been infected.
“This pandemic has been very severe,” Ryan said, according to Agence France-Presse. “It has spread around the world extremely quickly and it has affected every corner of this planet, but this is not necessarily the big one.”
He stressed that while the virus is “very transmissible, and it kills people… its current case fatality (rate) is reasonably low in comparison to other emerging diseases.
“We need to get ready for something that may even be more severe in the future,” Ryan added.
Bruce Aylward, a WHO senior adviser, also cautioned that while the world had made huge scientific advancements, including developing vaccines at record speed, it remained far from prepared to prevent future pandemics.
“We are into second and third waves of this virus and we are still not prepared to deal with and manage those,” he said. “So while we are better prepared… we are not fully prepared for this one, let alone the next one.”
Meanwhile, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed hope that the pandemic has helped the world become more prepared to tackle future threats.
“In terms of awareness, I think we are now getting it,” the director-general said, adding that it was “time now to be really serious.”
He also cited the two new strains of the virus that have emerged in the UK and South Africa that appear to be more infectious than the others.
“We are working with scientists in the UK and South Africa who are carrying out epidemiologic and laboratory studies, which will guide next steps,” he said.