Wednesday, December 30, 2020

WHO Warns of Worse Pandemics

Caution expressed as global cases continue surging


Dec 29, 2020 06:18 PM

A photo taken in the late hours of August 17, shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva Photo: VCG

South Africa banned alcohol sales and made masks mandatory in public from Tuesday after a surge in coronavirus cases, as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that pandemics far more deadly than COVID-19 may lie ahead.

Nations around the world are struggling with winter spikes in infections that have pushed the global caseload close to 81 million, even as the rollout of vaccines gathers pace in North America and Europe.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Monday a ban on selling alcohol and said face masks will be compulsory in public after his nation became the first in Africa to record one million cases. 

He said data showed "excessive alcohol consumption" leads to an increase in trauma cases reported at hospitals, causing an "unnecessary" strain on public health facilities.

Surging cases also forced authorities in Rio de Janeiro to announce Monday that they will block access to beaches on Thursday to prevent crowds celebrating New Year's Eve.

And in Spain, where the death toll has topped 50,000, the health minister said the government would set up a registry of people who refuse to be vaccinated, and share it with other EU member states.

Vaccinations in Spain and other EU countries started over the weekend, and authorities fear vaccine hesitancy and rejection could hamper those efforts - especially because of misinformation campaigns on social media.

The coronavirus has devastated lives and economies across the globe, but the WHO warned Monday that worse pandemics could lie ahead, urging the world to get serious about preparedness.

"This is a wakeup call," WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan said. "This pandemic... has spread around the world extremely quickly and it has affected every corner of this planet, but this is not necessarily the big one." 

While huge scientific progress was made to study the virus and develop vaccines at record speed, WHO senior advisor Bruce Aylward cautioned that the world was far from ready for the next pandemic.

"While we are better prepared... we are not fully prepared for this one, let alone the next one."

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