Story at a glance

  • “This pandemic has been very severe. It’s been spread around the world extremely quickly, it’s affected every corner of this planet. But this is not necessarily the big one,” WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan said Monday.
  • Ryan said the case fatality rate of the coronavirus is lower compared to other emerging diseases.
  • WHO officials said the likely scenario is the coronavirus will become another endemic that will be a low-level threat to humans for years to come.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that the coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 81 million people around the world may not be “the big one,” and the world will need to prepare for a potentially more severe pandemic. 

“This is a wakeup call,” WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan said during the health agency’s final news conference of the year Monday. 


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“This pandemic has been very severe. 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,” Ryan said. 

Ryan said that while the coronavirus is very transmissible and has deprived “so many people of loved ones,” its case fatality rate is lower compared to other emerging diseases. 

“From our perspective the planet is fragile. We live in an increasingly complex global society. These threats will continue. If there's one thing we need to take from this pandemic with all of the tragedy and loss is that we need to get our act together,” he said. 

As COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out around the world, WHO officials also said the likely scenario is the coronavirus will become another endemic that will be a low-level threat to humans for years to come. Ryan said the existence of a vaccine is no guarantee of eradicating the disease, saying “that is a very high bar for us to be able to get over.” 

“Fortunately, we have tools to save lives, and these in combination with good public health will permit us to learn to live with COVID-19,” David Heymann, the chair of WHO’s strategic and technical advisory group for infectious hazards, said during the briefing Monday. 

It’s been nearly a year since the first reports of the coronavirus began circulating after the virus emerged in China. 

The U.S. has been hit hardest by the virus, with more than 19 million people infected and about 335,000 deaths over the course of the pandemic. 


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Published on Dec 29, 2020