WHO expert: I'm hopeful COVID can be brought under control in 2022

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  • Maria Van Kerkhove
    American infectious disease epidemiologist (1977-)
People queue at a COVID Vaccination Centre at the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London, as the coronavirus booster vaccination programme continues across the UK. Despite the ramping-up of the booster programme, experts said it would not help in terms of hospitals admissions in the near future, as many would be people who are infected now before immunity has had time to build. Picture date: Monday December 20, 2021. (Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)
The WHO's Dr Maria Van Kerkhove is hopeful COVID can be brought under control next year. (Getty Images)

A top World Health Organization (WHO) official has said she is hopeful the COVID pandemic can be brought under control next year.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, told a virtual press conference on Wednesday the world had the tools to defeat the virus if used correctly.

She said giving vaccines to people who need them the most in all countries must be a priority instead of booster programmes. 

Dr Kerkhove added governments must also drive down transmissions or we would continue to see the virus mutate, which would bring us closer to the beginning than the end.

She said: “I do believe we’re still in the middle of this pandemic, unfortunately. 

"But I completely believe we have the power to end it in 2022.”

Watch: WHO Officials Sound the Alarm on Omicron

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also warned booster programmes were not enough to halt the spread of Omicron and could actually make things worse.

He added: "Blanket booster programmes are likely to prolong the pandemic, rather than ending it, by diverting supply to countries that already have high levels of vaccination coverage, giving the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate.

"It’s important to remember that the vast majority of hospitalisations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, not un-boosted people.

Dr Tedros said: "The global priority must be to support all countries to reach the 40% target as quickly as possible, and the 70% target by the middle of this year

"No country can boost its way out of the pandemic and boosters cannot be seen as a ticket to go ahead with planned celebrations, without the need for other precautions."

Read more: Inside the COVID ICU where unvaccinated patients fight for their lives

World Health Organization (WHO) Technical lead head Covid-19 Maria Van Kerkhove attends a press conference organized by Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus at WHO headquarters in Geneva on July 3, 2020. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The WHO's Maria Van Kerkhove. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the latest UK government figures show a further 106,122 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Wednesday, the first time daily reported cases have risen above 100,000.

The government said a further 140 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19.

Figures from NHS England show that 1,904 people were in hospital in London with the virus as of 21 December, the highest number since 2 March and up 41% from a week earlier.

Read more: How to book your COVID booster jab

Across England, 6,902 patients were in hospital with COVID-19 on 21 December – the highest number since 10 November and up 7% week-on-week.

Boris Johnson has reassured people that no further curbs will be introduced in England before Christmas Day despite the rising COVID cases.

The Prime Minister said there is not enough evidence on the severity of the Omicron variant and hospital admission to justify stricter measures.

But in Wales, first minister Mark Drakeford has announced new measures to be introduced from 6am on Boxing Day and claimed Johnson and his Cabinet are “paralysed by their internal divisions”.

Watch: What is a Rapid Lateral Flow Test?

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