Professor Houssin, Members and Advisors of the Emergency Committee, dear colleagues and friends,

When our last met in January, a new wave of infections and deaths was beginning, driven by the Omicron variant.

It’s pleasing to now see a downward trend in reported deaths, which last week were the lowest in more than two years.

But the pandemic is still far from over.

Transmission remains very high, vaccination coverage remains very low in too many countries, and the relaxation of many public health and social measures is allowing continued transmission, with the risk of new variants emerging.

COVID-19 is now affecting countries in very different ways:

In countries with high population immunity, we have seen a decoupling of cases from hospitalizations and deaths;

In other countries, the massive increases in cases has led to large numbers of hospitalizations and even higher numbers of deaths compared to previous waves.

It remains of major concern that large numbers of health workers and others at high risk are still unvaccinated.

Equitable access to vaccination of the most at-risk groups remains the single most powerful tool we have to save lives.

Striving to vaccinate 70% of the population of every country remains essential for bringing the pandemic under control, with priority given to health workers, older people and other at-risk groups.

Even as some high-income countries now roll out fourth doses for their populations, one third of the world’s population is yet to receive a single dose, including 83% of the population of Africa.

As the pandemic enters its third year, three factors have become critical:

First, fatigue. People are exhausted, after two years of deaths, social isolation, missed family reunions, closed schools and disrupted workplaces.

Second, the duration of immunity from prior vaccination or infection remains unclear.

And third, we can’t predict how the virus will evolve.

Despite these uncertainties, we have the tools to limit transmission, save lives and protect health systems.

We have the systems to better understand the virus as it changes, and we have the vaccines, tests, treatments and public health and social measures to end the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, WHO released its updated Strategic Preparedness, Readiness and Response Plan for COVID-19.

Our plan sets out the key strategic adjustments that, if implemented rapidly and consistently at national, regional, and global levels, will enable the world to end the global emergency of COVID-19.

While the pandemic remains far from over, the plan also lays the foundations for a more effective response to future threats.

This is our third strategic plan for COVID-19, and it could and should be our last.

My colleagues will provide technical updates on the current epidemiological situation, future scenarios, vaccination and international travel.

My thanks once again to you, Professor Houssin, for your leadership.

And my thanks to each of the committee members and advisors for sharing your expertise, and for your dedication and commitment. Thank you so much.

As always, the International Health Regulations will guide your deliberations.

I wish you a productive meeting.

I thank you.

Source: World Health Organization

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