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At a briefing on the global COVID-19 situation today, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) credited stringent measures in countries for a decline in cases over the past 4 weeks, but he warned that complacency is as dangerous as the virus.
In another encouraging trend, deaths have fallen for the second week in a row, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the WHO’s director general. “Every life that is lost now is all the more tragic as vaccines are beginning to be rolled out.”
He urged countries to keep their COVID-19 measures in place and for individuals to keep their guard up.
WHO looks ahead to China mission report, ‘long COVID’ guidance
In other updates, Tedros said the international joint mission team that just returned from investigating the source of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in China is working on a summary report that will likely be published next week. He said the group will also publish a full final report in the weeks ahead.
He also fielded questions about whether the group has discarded some hypotheses on SARS-CoV-2 origins. Earlier this week, members of the group signaled that a jump from an intermediate animal host seemed most plausible, while a lab release of the virus was less likely.
“Having spoken with some members of the team, I wish to confirm that all hypotheses remain open and require further analysis and studies,” Tedros said. “Some of that work may lie outside the remit and scope of this mission.”
He said the WHO’s stance has always been that the mission wouldn’t find all the answers, but it will add information that brings the world closer to knowing the origins of the virus.
Marion Koopmans, DVM, PhD, a joint mission member who is a virologist at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, said it was important to be in China and understand what their researchers haven’t found, a key step for guiding further study. She said the country has tested and screened more than 30,000 different animals from different species in different locations, which hasn’t yielded a clear candidate for a host yet, but offers leads for the next testing steps.
In other developments, Tedros said that earlier this week the WHO convened the first of several meetings of patients, clinicians, and other stakeholders to define “long COVID”. He said part of the challenge is that patients with long COVID have symptoms that persist, or that come and go.
Earlier this week, the WHO posted a case reporting form to allow more data to be collected on the condition in a standardized way.
Lockdown in Melbourne
Health officials in Melbourne, Australia, yesterday ordered a 5-day lockdown after a new cluster of COVID-19 cases linked to a quarantine hotel grew to 13 cases, according to Reuters. All involved the more transmissible B117 variant.
In other developments:
- Doctors Without Borders (MSF) today warned again of an unfolding disaster in Brazil’s Amazonas state, where it is managing or supporting 100 beds both in outlying areas and in Manaus, the epicenter of the outbreak. In a statement, MSF said all intensive care unit (ICU) beds are full and there are long waiting lists of people seeking more advanced care. It said January deaths in Manaus were higher than that of the surge in April and May, with fatalities five times higher in January than they were in December.
- In Europe, more countries are sending medical teams to help with Portugal’s ongoing surge, according to CNN.
- The global COVID-19 tally today topped 108 million cases and is at 108,030,042 cases with 2,377,268 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.