Can the health-care system withstand the introduction of a new COVID-19 variant? WHO is concerned as the number of cases in China continues to rise.
According to a WHO official, there are still “huge weaknesses” in the global health-care system that could be exposed if a new COVID variant takes dominance.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, told reporters at a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, that he does not believe the world is prepared to “take the hit” of another wave of a new COVID variant, despite concerns in China about rapidly growing infections.
“We have exhausted health-care workers. The prevalence of PTSD and social anxiety disorders in health care workers is extremely high. “A lot of health workers are leaving,” he said.
“As they have worked hard on the frontlines, health workers’ incomes have fallen behind. They were left behind when the economic crisis hit, and they now face a stark future of less pay for more work, more stress, and less recognition, and many are choosing to leave the field.
“Are we ready to take the hit of another wave of a new variant that might emerge? “I don’t believe so.”
For nearly three years, health-care systems worldwide have been dealing with wave after wave of COVID-19 infections. COVID-19 vaccines have reduced the likelihood of severe outcomes, but as immunity fades, health officials, including those in Canada, have urged the public to stay up to date on vaccinations in order to protect the health-care system.
Health experts are becoming increasingly concerned about the COVID-19 situation in China. Following unprecedented protests, Beijing recently began easing some strict measures implemented as part of its “zero COVID” system.
The implementation of zero COVID came at a high cost to Chinese society and the world’s second-largest economy, but as the virus spreads rapidly among the country’s 1.4 billion people, concerns about possible deaths, variants, and economic and trade impacts are growing.
“However, if China is to reach an endemic state without lockdowns and the economic and political damage that entails, it must inevitably go through a large wave of COVID-19.”
READ MORE: China launches COVID-19 vaccination campaign in villages as infections rise
The potential for the virus to mutate as it spreads in China, according to US State Department spokesperson Ned Price, is “a threat for people everywhere.”
China has been racing not only to strengthen its health-care system, but also to increase vaccination rates among the population.
Last month, China’s health ministry promised to make a concerted effort to increase vaccinations among the over-60 population, promising to deploy specialist vehicles and set up temporary clinics in villages and communities to boost coverage rates, which have lagged among the elderly.
Ryan stated that China is “recommitting” to the vaccination strategy, and that given the size of China’s population, increased vaccination is in the “interest” of many people around the world.
However, just because China is dealing with a severe COVID outbreak does not mean that the rest of the world is safe, according to Ryan.
Countries that have abandoned testing measures are “blinding us,” and there are “huge weaknesses” in the health-care system, he claims.
“We haven’t solved the oxygen issue. We have not resolved the ICU issue. “We haven’t addressed the out-of-pocket expenses that people face when they become critically ill,” Ryan said.
“In many families around the world, one severe illness will impoverish the family for generations. That is the reality that people face, and it forces them to make desperate decisions. There is gross injustice in how people access health care and how they can access it.”
During his opening remarks, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that the COVID-19 pandemic’s emergency phase could end in 2023.
However, in order to get there, countries must maintain high levels of vaccination, according to Ryan.
“Vaccination is crucial. It truly is a get-out-of-jail-free card. “We need it and will continue to need it,” he said.
“But it’s not good unless we use it, really and truly, it doesn’t do any good. It’s not so much about vaccines as it is about vaccination.”