Let’s start with the good news: corona seems to have stabilized in the Netherlands, even though it is winter. The RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) meets about it once every two weeks, but there is actually nothing new to report, says a spokesperson.
No news is good news of course. We had a peak in December, but the corona thermometer has been at the lowest position of ‘keep an eye on’ for a while now. The vaccination coverage is good and no new, unknown variants of the virus have been found in the Netherlands so far, it remains mainly the milder omikron.
Deaths, unpredictability and complications
But of course the WHO does not only look at the Netherlands. Marion Koopmans, professor of virology and advisor to the World Health Organization, lists six points why corona is still a pandemic and international emergency:
There are still many deaths, more than 170,000 worldwide in the past two months, Koopmans knows. We are still living with the unpredictability of the further course of the virus and the emergence of new variants. There is increasing evidence that there may be complications after a corona infection, such as cardiovascular disease. The question is still what the role of mild infections is. There is less and less insight into the virus because less and less data is being collected, making it increasingly difficult to determine, for example, whether a variant leads to more serious complaints. The longer term receives too little attention: how do we ensure that we keep track of the virus and its impact? Access to corona medicines and vaccines is still very unevenly distributed around the world.
The Red Cross goes one step further, warning that despite three ‘fierce corona years’, the world is ill-prepared for a new pandemic.
Corona is certainly not under control in every country. In China, for example, corona is still the order of the day, says our correspondent Roland Smid.
“The festive weeks of Chinese New Year are almost over here. That is normally a happy time of getting together with the family or traveling to your parents on the other side of the country. But for many families it is now a sad affair, and it is there’s an empty seat at the dinner table.”
Millions of Chinese have been infected with corona in the past two months. The country where the virus was first diagnosed was long spared from mass infections due to its zero-covid policy. Since that policy was released in November last year, that changed abruptly.
‘Everyone has lost someone’
Smid: “It seems that the first wave here has passed its peak, but it has cost a lot of lives. I am currently in the Chinese countryside. Everyone I speak to has lost someone in recent months, often an old neighbor or grandpa or grandma. I also come across many deaths on social media.”
What the WHO warns about worldwide certainly applies to China: the country has completely lost sight of the virus. Until November, everyone was constantly tested and the government had a very precise picture of who was infected. Those figures were reasonably reliable, according to Roland Smid.
“The strange thing is that China immediately switched to opening up the country and stopped testing. Now we can only rely on estimates.”
For example, virologists estimate that 1 billion Chinese have had corona, Smid knows. That’s about 80 percent of the population. No one knows the real number of corona deaths. It is believed that millions of elderly people in China are not vaccinated and in rural areas they have little access to care. Smid: “Many elderly people in rural areas have died at home. I think they will not be registered as corona deaths.”
When will the emergency be over?
When will the WHO be able to scale down? Professor Koopmans, who is also a member of the WHO advisory council, cannot yet answer that question. But, she says, “On average, we get together once every three months, so maybe next time.”
Although that depends on a lot of factors, on how the virus behaves, possible new complications that come to light, but also on the attitude of the world.
Koopmans: “You can see that the world is a bit done with it, but the virus remains and we have to take it seriously. By that I mean that we have to keep an eye on it and vaccinate and treat it where necessary. long-term approach is needed: how do we arrange this in the next ten years?”