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Large Covid-19 outbreaks still spreading in Asia: UN chief

With new coronavirus variants emerging every four months on average, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that the pandemic is far from over as large outbreaks are spreading in Asia.

“Governments and pharmaceutical companies need to work better together to deliver vaccines to every person, everywhere — not just in wealthy countries,” he said in a video message to the GAVI COVAX international vaccine equity initiative’s “Advance Market Commitment Summit 2022,” which saw world leaders commit $4.8 billion to help lower-income nations boost vaccination rates, and secure better access for new vaccine procurements.

The GAVI Vaccine Alliance hosted the summit alongside the G7 president, Germany, Ghana, Indonesia (which holds the presidency of the G20 industrialized nations forum), and the African Union chair, Senegal.

Guterres said that in order to reach the billions who have so far not received vaccine shots, countries needed to fulfil and accelerate dose-sharing and donation commitments to COVAX, with better quality of supply.

“And it means having strong national vaccine-delivery systems at the ready – including efforts to counter disinformation and get vaccines into arms. I also call on countries to commit new funding for the ACT-Accelerator and COVAX this year,” he added.

He said the summit was “a critical reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.”

“We’re seeing 1.5 million new cases each day. Large outbreaks are spreading in Asia,” he said, adding that a new wave was sweeping across Europe.

He said the spread of Omicron—now surging in the form of the BA2 variant in many parts of the world—was “a startling reminder of how quickly COVID-19 can mutate and spread—especially in the absence of high vaccination coverage.”

A third of the planet is still lacking even one dose, and yet, some high-income countries are preparing for their second booster doses, the UN chief said. “This is a brutal indictment of our deeply unequal world. It’s also a prime breeding ground for new variants, more deaths, and increased human and economic misery.

“The next variant is not a question of ‘if’. It’s a question of ‘when’.’”

“We are far from our target of every country reaching 70 per cent vaccination coverage by the middle of this year”, he stressed, and with new variants emerging roughly every four months, “time is of the essence.”

He said there was plenty of global supply of vaccines, with 1.5 billion doses per month being manufactured, and the “remarkable” procurement, shipment and delivery system, of the COVAX Facility and its Advance Market Commitment mechanism, had managed to deliver 1.2 billion doses so far to countries in need.

“This proves that progress is possible. But the window is closing fast. And we need to help all countries prepare for future pandemics by multiplying the number of countries able to locally produce tests, vaccines and treatments.”

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