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WHO official: 'Don't hug each other' is 'brutal reality'

WHO official: 'Don't hug each other' is 'brutal reality'
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The World Health Organization advised against hugging loved ones over the holidays, saying it would be considered the kind of “close contact” that spreads the coronavirus.

“It’s a horrible thing to think that we would be here as the World Health Organization saying to people, ‘Don’t hug each other.’ It’s terrible … [but] that is the brutal reality in places like the United States right now,” Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, said Monday, according to The Associated Press.

“It’s quite frankly shocking to see one to two persons a minute die in the U.S. — a country with a wonderful, strong health system [and] amazing technological capacities,” he said, noting that the U.S. has a third of the world’s coronavirus cases.

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Kate O’Brien, the director of vaccines for the United Nations health agency, warned that even as vaccines become available for the virus, they would not be “a switch” that, when flipped, immediately brings the pandemic to an end.

The U.K., the first country to approve Pfizer’s vaccine candidate, is set to roll out the drug to at-risk populations beginning Tuesday. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to consider an application for an emergency use authorization of the drug Thursday and consider a separate application from Moderna next week.

O’Brien also acknowledged that some of the public might have concerns about the safety of a vaccine developed in under a year and said that while these were “really legitimate questions,” people should learn more about the science behind the development process to assuage their concerns.

Public health experts have increasingly warned the public to be safe during the holiday season after advising against travel for Thanksgiving. With rates of infection on the rise, they have warned the winter will be particularly fraught as cold weather leads more people to gather indoors.