We can end 'emergency phase' of COVID in 2022, says World Health Organisation

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AIRDRIE, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 05: A member of staff at University Hospital Monklands attends to a Covid-positive patient on the ICU ward on February 5, 2021 in Airdrie, Scotland. The numbers of patients with Coronavirus at Lanarkshire hospitals hit record levels during Scotland's second wave of the pandemic with ICU staff members left feeling ‘physically and emotionally drained’. Patients admitted to Monklands ICU are much younger during this second wave, many with no underlying health conditions, which differ from the first wave where patients were more likely to be elderly and often ill before they contracted the virus. Figures published by Public Health Scotland on February 5 showed that 61 more Covid-positive patients who tested positive have died bringing the total to 6,383 and the total confirming as positive has risen by 895 to 184,313.  (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The WHO has warned that Covid should not be treated ilke flu. (Stock image: Getty)

The World Health Organisation has said it hopes to be able to end the "emergency phase" of the COVID pandemic this year.

However, it comes amid warnings from a senior figure at the organisation that any move to treat coronavirus "like flu" would be a mistake.

On Monday, the Regional Director for WHO Europe Dr Hans Kluge said he was hopeful it could enter a new stage of the pandemic this year, allowing it to turn its attention to other urgent health matters.

He pointed to the growing spread of the omicron variant - which now accounts for 31.8% of cases across Europe - saying that although the pandemic was far from over, the more mild variant offered "plausible hope for stabilisation and normalisation" in the coming months.

"We are entering a new phase, driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant," he said. "The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful we can end the emergency phase in 2022 and address other health threats that urgently require our attention.

Watch: COVID still 'full of surprises, nasty and cunning' and more variants 'not far away', WHO warns

"Backlogs and waiting lists have grown, essential health services have been disrupted, and plans and preparations for climate-related health stresses and shocks have been put on hold across the region."

He also warned it was far too early to relax, urging governments to invest in good ventilation, high-quality masks, social distancing, vaccines and antiviral drugs.

His warnings were echoed on Monday by Dr David Nabarro, the WHO's (World Health Organisation) special envoy for Covid-19, who said people should continue to treat the virus as though it is "full of surprises, very nasty and rather cunning" rather than comparing it to flu.

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He told Sky News: "I keep wondering what the people who make these amazing predictions know that I and my colleagues in the World Health Organisation don’t know."

He added: "You see, what people are seeing from around the world and reporting to the WHO is this is still a very, very dangerous virus, especially for people who have not been vaccinated and who’ve not been exposed to it before.

"It can also mutate and form variants and we’ve seen several but we know there are more not far away.

"So quite honestly, we are not saying that this should be considered to be like flu or indeed like anything else.

"It’s a new virus, and we must go on treating it as though it is full of surprises, very nasty and rather cunning."

The warnings come as the UK government appears to be on a different path, saying that soon COVID could be treated similarly to the flu - in which there would be no need for people to isolate or wear face coverings.

In a speech to the Commons on 19 January, Boris Johnson said: "There will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self-isolate altogether - just as we don’t place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu."

In a Downing Street press conference on the same day - in which he said Omicron was "in retreat" - Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: ""It's not the end of the road and we shouldn't see this as the finish line because we cannot eradicate this virus and its future variants.

"Instead we must learn to live with Covid in the same way we have to live with flu."

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