Speaking in the Japanese capital Tokyo, he said the world must unite with “determination, dedication and discipline” to triumph over the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More than any other event (the Games) have the power to bring the world together; to inspire; to show what is possible,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) told the International Olympic Committee, with the Olympic flame in his hand.
He warned that the world was now in the early stages of another wave of infections and deaths, urging all countries to embark on a “massive global push” to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of their populations by September.
Today, 75 per cent of vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries, Tedros said, while in low income countries, “only one per cent of people have received at least one dose”.
The WHO chief said that the world’s failure to share vaccines, tests, and treatments, including oxygen, is fuelling “a two-track pandemic” between the haves who are opening up, and the have-nots who are locking down.
“This is not just a moral outrage; it’s also epidemiologically and economically self-defeating”, he said, warning that the longer the inequity persists, the slower the recovery will be.
More transmissions will lead to more potentially dangerous mutations, even greater than the devastating Delta variant, he cautioned.
“And the more variants, the higher the likelihood that one of them will evade vaccines and take us all back to square one”, signalled the WHO official, reiterating that “none of us is safe until all of us are”.
‘Sick and tired’
Tedros called the pandemic a test in which “the world is failing” and reminded that we are not in a race against each other, but against the virus.
“In the time it takes me to make these remarks, more than 100 people will lose their lives to COVID-19”, he said. “And by the time the Olympic flame is extinguished on the 8th of August, more than 100,000 more people will perish”.
COVID has already taken more than four million lives, and the toll continues to rise as the number of deaths this year, has already more than double last year’s total, according to the WHO chief.
“The people of the world are sick and tired”, he said, “sick of the virus…the lives and livelihoods it has taken…the suffering it has caused… the restrictions and disruptions to their lives…the turmoil it has caused to economies and societies…[and] the dark clouds it has cast over our futures”.
By the time the Olympic flame is extinguished…more than 100,000 more people will perish — WHO chief
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught many painful but important lessons, including that when health is at risk, everything is at risk, said the UN official.
“That’s why WHO’s top priority is universal health coverage”, he explained, sharing the vision of a world in which all people can access health services where and when they need them, without facing financial hardship.
When asked when the pandemic will end, Tedros answers “when the world chooses to end it”.
“We have the tools to prevent transmission and save lives. Our common goal must be to vaccinate 70 per cent of the population of every country by the middle of next year”, he concluded.
Tracking the virus
Meanwhile WHO on Wednesday reported a 12 per cent increase in new cases globally last week, compared to the previous one, a total of 3.4 million new cases.
Since the start of the pandemic 19 months ago, there have been more than 190 million confirmed infections and more than 4,109,000 deaths.
© IOC/Greg Martin