WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 21 December 2020

• In the past few days, there have been reports of new variants of the COVID-19 virus in South Africa and the UK. Viruses mutate over time; that’s natural and expected. WHO is working with scientists to understand how these genetic changes affect how the virus behaves.
• In early 2021, 4.6 billion U.S. dollars in additional funding will be needed to purchase COVID-19 vaccines for at least 20% of the population of all low and lower-middle income countries.
• The hundred-hundred initiative of WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank aims to support 100 countries to conduct rapid readiness assessments and develop country-specific plans within 100 days for vaccines and other COVID-19 tools. 89 countries have already completed the assessments and our teams are working around the clock to ensure that governments and health systems are ready for global vaccine rollout.
• For 30 years, our colleagues at the United Nations Development Programme, or UNDP, have published the Human Development Report, an annual snapshot of the state of global development. The latest edition of the Human Development Report, published last week, takes an in-depth look at the COVID-19 pandemic and what it might mean for the future of development and humanity.
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.
In the past few days, there have been reports of new variants of the COVID-19 virus in South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Viruses mutate over time; that’s natural and expected.
The UK has reported that this new variant transmits more easily but there is no evidence so far that it is more likely to cause severe disease or mortality.
WHO is working with scientists to understand how these genetic changes affect how the virus behaves.
The bottom line is that we need to suppress transmission of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses as quickly as we can.
The more we allow it to spread, the more opportunity it has to change.
I can’t stress enough – to all governments and all people – how important it is to take the necessary precautions to limit transmission.
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This year has been difficult for all of us, but for health workers it has never been harder.
At this festive time of year for so many, the best gift for health workers is for leaders and citizens to take precautions that ease the pressure on health systems.
Safe and effective vaccines give us hope, but they are not an excuse for people to let down their guard and put themselves and their loved ones at risk.
Now is the time to double down on the public health basics that have seen many countries suppress the virus effectively.
There are a number of groups that continue to push a narrative that this virus only affects the old, and that with vaccines on the horizon we can relax.
COVID-19 affects children and adults in a variety of ways, and it can attack every system in the body.
And a growing number of people suffer with long-term consequences of the virus.
This includes neurological complications for children and adults, which are still being researched.
Vaccines are offering hope for some, but I am deeply concerned that vaccine nationalism will deprive the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people of these life-saving tools.
Now is the time for political commitment to be translated into action.
Pledges and promises will not protect anyone unless they are realised.
Last week, we announced that the COVAX Facility – which is backed by 190 countries and economies – has secured access to nearly two billion doses of promising vaccine candidates.
In early 2021, US$ 4.6 billions in additional funding will be needed to purchase COVID-19 vaccines for at least 20% of the population of all low and lower-middle income countries.
This will ensure health workers and those at highest risk of severe disease are vaccinated, which is the fastest way to stabilise health systems and economies and stimulate a truly global recovery.
The hundred-hundred initiative of WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank aims to support 100 countries to conduct rapid readiness assessments and develop country-specific plans within 100 days for vaccines and other COVID-19 tools.
89 countries have already completed the assessments and our teams are working around the clock to ensure that governments and health systems are ready for global vaccine rollout.
WHO has also released a new training course for health workers on COVID-19 vaccination, which is available at OpenWHO.org.
Vaccines will help to end the pandemic, but the effects of COVID-19 will continue to be felt for many years to come.
The pandemic has exploited and exacerbated the vulnerabilities and inequalities of our world.
But it has also shown that in the face of an unprecedented crisis, we can come together in new ways to confront it.
Every crisis is an opportunity to question the way we do things, and to find new ways of doing them.
For 30 years, our colleagues at the United Nations Development Programme, or UNDP, have published the Human Development Report, an annual snapshot of the state of global development.
UNDP has long been a critical partner to WHO, working closely on a host of health and development issues together to solve problems on the ground so that people get the services they need.
The latest edition of the Human Development Report, published last week, takes an in-depth look at the COVID-19 pandemic and what it might mean for the future of development and humanity.
To talk more about the report, I’m pleased to be joined by my brother, Achim Steiner, the Administrator of UNDP.
Achim, thank you for your partnership and thank you so much for joining us today. The floor is yours.

Source: World Health Organization

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