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15.07.2021 / International

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the 8th meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee on COVID-19 – 14 July 2021

Professor Houssin, 

Members and advisors of the Emergency Committee, dear colleagues and friends, 

Welcome to this eighth meeting of the Emergency Committee, and thank you once again for your continuing commitment. 

When you last met, the level of cases and deaths globally were reaching a new peak. 

But as increasing vaccination rates in Europe and North America started to take effect, we saw sustained declines in cases and deaths. 

Unfortunately, those trends have now reversed, and we are now in the early stages of a third wave. 

Last week marked the fourth consecutive week of increasing cases of COVID-19 globally, with increases recorded in all but one of WHO’s six regions. 

And after 10 weeks of declines, deaths are increasing again. 

The virus continues to evolve, resulting in more transmissible variants. 

Since the last time you met, we have categorized these variants and named them after the letters of the Greek alphabet, to avoid the stigma associated with naming them after their geographical origins.  

The Delta variant is now in more than 111 countries and we expect it to soon be the dominant COVID-19 strain circulating worldwide, if it isn’t already. 

The Delta variant is one of the main drivers of the current increase in transmission, fuelled by increased social mixing and mobility, and inconsistent use of proven public health and social measures. 

At the same time, we continue to see a shocking disparity in the global distribution of vaccines, and unequal access to life-saving tools. 

This inequity has created a two-track pandemic: countries with the greatest access to vaccines are lifting restrictions and reopening their societies, although great risks remain for unvaccinated groups. 

Meanwhile, lack of access to vaccines leaves most of the world’s population susceptible to infection, and at the mercy of the virus. 

Many countries still have not received any vaccines, and most have not received enough. COVAX can work, but the scale is still far too small, with just over 100 million doses shipped. 

I have called for a massive push to vaccinate at least 10% of the population of every country by September, at least 40% by the end of this year, and at least 70% by the middle of next year. 

To reach these targets, we need 11 billion doses. We’re grateful for the announcements made by the G7 countries that together they will donate 870 million doses, primarily through COVAX. But much more is needed, much faster. 

And we also know that vaccines alone will not stop this pandemic. 

We have urged countries to persist with a tailored and consistent approach, using the full array of public health and social measures, and a comprehensive risk management approach to mass gatherings. 

So many countries around the world have shown that this virus can be stopped and contained with these measures. 

We see countries relaxing restrictions on international travel, but national policies to record the status of travellers remain uncoordinated. 

To support countries, WHO has recently issued updated guidance to facilitate a risk-based approach for opening. 

WHO is also reviewing options to digitalize the International Certificate for Vaccination and Prophylaxis, to support a harmonized approach for recording vaccination status, as well as other information about international travellers. 

We continue to look to you for advice on the key challenges countries still face, and how to overcome them, guided as always by the International Health Regulations. 

Thank you once again, Professor Houssin, for your leadership, especially on French national day. 

And my thanks to each of the committee members and advisors for contributing your expertise, dedication and commitment.  

I wish you a productive meeting.

Merci beaucoup, I thank you.

Source: World Health Organization