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WHO chief addresses IOC in Japan and warns of latest wave of Covid

The Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, will attend a daily press conference on COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, on March 11, 2020 at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

The world is in the early stages of another wave of Covid-19 infections and deaths, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

Speaking to members of the International Olympic Committee in Tokyo, Tedros said the global failure to share vaccines, tests and treatments is fueling a “two-pronged pandemic.” Countries with adequate resources like vaccines are opening up while others lock up to slow down the transmission of the virus.

Vaccine discrepancies around the world mask a “appalling injustice,” he added.

The pandemic is a test and the world is failing.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Director General, World Health Organization

“Not only is this a moral outrage, it’s epidemiologically and economically self-destructive,” Tedros said, adding that the longer the pandemic lasts, the more socio-economic turmoil it will bring. “The pandemic is a test and the world is failing.”

He warned: “19 months after the start of the pandemic and seven months since the first vaccines were approved, we are now in the early stages of another wave of infections and deaths”. Tedros added that the global threat from the pandemic will remain until all countries have the disease under control.

A festival of hope

The Tokyo Games are slated to open on Friday after being postponed last year due to the pandemic.

Rising Covid-19 cases in Tokyo have overshadowed the Olympics, which excluded all viewers from the Games this month after Japan declared a state of emergency.

The cases around the Japanese capital have increased by more than 1,000 new infections daily in the last few days. Japan has reported more than 848,000 Covid cases and over 15,000 deaths nationwide from a relatively slow vaccine adoption.

The first positive Covid-19 case hit the athletes’ village over the weekend and so far more than 70 cases have been linked to the Tokyo Games.

On Wednesday, Tedros said the Games were a celebration of “something our world needs now more than ever – a celebration of hope”. While the pandemic may have postponed the Games, he said it did not “beat” them.

Vaccine discrepancies

Tedros criticized the vaccine discrepancy between rich and low-income countries. He said 75% of all vaccine doses – more than 3.5 billion vaccinations – were given in just 10 countries, while only 1% of people in poorer countries received at least one vaccination.

“Vaccines are powerful and indispensable tools. But the world has not used them well,” he said, adding that vaccinations have not been widely available but have been concentrated in the “hands and arms of the lucky few”.

The global health agency has called for a massive global push to vaccinate at least 70% of the population in each country by the middle of next year.

“The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it. It’s in our hands, ”said Tedros. “We have all the tools we need: we can prevent this disease, we can test for it, and we can treat it.”

He called on the world’s leading economies, by sharing vaccines and funding global efforts to make them more accessible, and incentivizing companies to expand vaccine production.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics holds the U.S. broadcast rights to all Summer and Winter Games through 2032.

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