The world has never been in a better position to end the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the World Health Organisation says, urging countries to keep up their efforts against the virus that has killed more than six million people
"We are not there yet. But the end is in sight," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
The comment was the most optimistic from the United Nations agency since it declared COVID-19 an international emergency in January 2020 and started describing it as a pandemic three months later.
The virus, which was first detected in China in late 2019, has killed nearly 6.5 million people and infected 606 million, roiling global economies and overwhelming healthcare systems.
The rollout of vaccines and therapies have helped to stem the severity of disease.
Deaths from COVID-19 last week were the lowest since March 2020, the UN agency reported.
Still, countries need to take a hard look at their policies and strengthen them for COVID-19 and future viruses, Tedros said.
He also urged countries to vaccinate 100 per cent of their high-risk groups and keep testing for the virus.
The WHO warned of the possibility of future waves of the virus and said countries need to maintain adequate supplies of medical equipment and healthcare workers.
"We expect there to be future waves of infections, potentially at different time points throughout the world caused by different subvariants of Omicron or even different variants of concern," WHO's senior epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said.
With more than one million deaths this year alone, the pandemic remains an emergency globally and within most countries.
"The COVID-19 summer wave, driven by Omicron BA.4 and BA.5, showed that the pandemic is not yet over as the virus continues to circulate in Europe and beyond," a European Commission spokesperson said.
The WHO's next meeting of experts to decide whether the pandemic still represents a public health emergency of international concern is due in October, a WHO spokesperson said.
"It's probably fair to say most of the world is moving beyond the emergency phase of the pandemic response," said Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University.
Governments are now looking at how best to manage COVID-19 as part of their routine healthcare and surveillance, he said.