World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a strategic preparedness and response plan with the hope to end the acute phase of COVID-19 but not the end of COVID-19.
Regional Emergency Director of WHO Health Emergencies Programme, WHO South-East Asian Region (SEAR), Dr Edwin Salvador, said COVID-19 can never be eradicated. However, it will completely depend on the member states.
He said that only if countries continue to implement measures that are working, such as vaccination, public health, and social measures, then it is likely that COVID-19 will end earlier.
Citing as an example, Bhutan has 89.2 percent vaccine coverage for the second dose, so Bhutan has a very highly protective population against COVID-19. While some countries in Africa just have 30 percent vaccine coverage, and it would take them a lot of time to get to 70 percent. Due to the disparity among countries, 194 countries in the world are vaccinating their people differently, it gives a chance for COVID-19 to continue to stay on, said Dr Salvador.
He said some countries are having large gatherings without really understanding the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
He also said the future variants are expected to be significantly less severe, and protection against severity is maintained without needing periodic boosting. But if more virulent and highly transmissible variant emerges, immunity against severe disease reduce rapidly, and vaccines will be less effective, said Dr Salvador.
“We have achieved a lot together in the past two and half years. However, most likely COVID-19 will continue to remain with us in the future too, and whatever variant of COVID-19 is, it is still a very dangerous disease and we should keep reminding ourselves,” said Dr Salvador.
Dr Edwin Salvador said there are declining cases of COVID-19 but it is due to decline in testing and change in testing modality like rapid tests.
Dr Salvador also highlighted how Bhutan has successfully managed to contain COVID-19 because of the clear strategy of the Royal Government of Bhutan, and it is one of the few countries in the world that has not experienced the severe impact of COVID-19.
This clearly shows that as the disease evolves, strategies continue to be adapted based on the country’s needs and also the very high number of populations that have been vaccinated.
Bhutan has cumulatively 61,730 cases and 21 deaths (low CFR at 0.03 percent) and successfully contained COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021. An acute surge in January – April 2022 was triggered by the Omicron variant.
Bhutan has the highest vaccination coverage in the South-East Asian Region (SEAR) completing primary series as of 29 August 2022 and most cases have been asymptomatic or had a mild illness; hospitalizations were minimal.
The Omicron variant triggered rapid substantial increases in cases but much lower hospitalization, ICU admission, and deaths compared to the Delta variant during the dominant period.
Despite overall less severe disease associated with Omicron, high-risk populations (the elderly), especially those unvaccinated or not previously exposed, continue to bear higher risks of severe disease, hospitalization, and deaths.
The latest variant which is still the predominant is BA.5 which has been now reported in South-East Asia and also globally. The research is still going on about the severity.
Meanwhile, WHO proposed a framework for strengthening global HEPR architecture.