Africa: Who Director-General's Opening Remarks At the Member States Briefing On Covid-19 - 11 February 2021

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Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, and thank you for joining us for today's briefing.

As you know, the independent expert team to study the origins of the COVID-19 virus has completed its trip to China.

This was an international team comprising experts from Australia, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Qatar, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Viet Nam.

The team also includes experts from WHO, FAO and OIE.

I want to start by thanking all members of the international team for their work.

This has been a very important scientific exercise in very difficult circumstances.

In a few moments you will hear from two members of the international team, Professor Marion Koopmans, head of the department of Viroscience at the University of Rotterdam, and Dr Peter Ben Embarek, our WHO expert on food safety and zoonoses.

The expert team is still working on its final report and we look forward to receiving both the report and a full briefing.

Some questions have been raised as to whether some hypotheses have been discarded.

I want to clarify that all hypotheses remain open and require further study.

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Meanwhile, we are continuing to see a decline in cases globally, with a 17% drop compared with last week.

This is the fourth week of declining cases.

The number of deaths also fell for the second week in a row, with 88 000 new deaths reported last week - a terrible number, but a 10% decline from the previous week.

These declines appear to be due to countries implementing public health measures more stringently.

But remember, we have been here before. Now is not the time to relax measures, or for any of us to let down our guard.

Every life that is lost now is all the more tragic as vaccines are now being rolled out.

The virus continues to circulate widely, and new variants are emerging.

This is not an unexpected development, but it gives a new urgency to our global efforts to bring this pandemic under control.

Every time the virus mutates - no matter where in the world - it has the potential to blunt the effectiveness of our vaccines, medicines, and tests.

Recently, there have been concerns over a study that showed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was found to be minimally effective at preventing mild to moderate disease against a new variant of COVID-19.

We still do not know if the vaccine continues to prevent severe illness caused by the variant, however.

These results are a reminder that we need to do everything we can to reduce circulation of the virus using proven public health measures.

At the same time, we have to be ready to adapt vaccines so they remain effective, as we do with flu vaccines, which are updated twice a year.

Manufacturers will have to adjust to the evolution of the virus, taking into account the latest variants for future shots, including boosters.

The emerging variants underscore why it is so important to scale up manufacturing and roll out vaccines as quickly and as widely as possible, while prioritizing frontline health and care workers and those most at risk.

WHO and our partners in the ACT Accelerator have laid the groundwork. We have created a dose-sharing mechanism, set up rapid processes for emergency use listing, set up indemnification and no-fault compensation mechanisms and completed readiness assessments in almost all AMC countries.

But I see three major threats to the success of the ACT Accelerator and COVAX, which need our urgent attention.

First, the financing gap for the ACT Accelerator stands at more than US$27 billion for 2021.

The longer this gap goes unmet, the harder it becomes to understand why, given this is a tiny fraction of the trillions of dollars that have been mobilized for stimulus packages in G20 countries.

Second, we call on all countries to respect COVAX contracts and not compete with them.

Some countries continue to sign bilateral deals while other countries have nothing.

And third, we need an urgent scale-up in manufacturing to increase the volume of vaccines.

That means innovative partnerships including tech transfer, licensing and other mechanisms to address production bottlenecks.

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of welcoming the United States of America to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

We are glad to have their support and involvement, and we look forward to their partnership in ensuring that all countries enjoy equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

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Finally, on Sunday a new case of Ebola was reported near the city of Butembo, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the same area where a previous outbreak recently occurred.

Yesterday, another case was confirmed. Both, sadly, have died.

Thanks to the enormous capacity built during the last outbreak, provincial health authorities now have significant experience in responding to Ebola and in preventing transmission.

Vaccines are being sent to the area and WHO has deployed a rapid response team to provide support to local and national authorities.

More than 200 contacts have been identified. We hope vaccination will begin this week.

Excellencies, thank you once again for your continuing engagement.

We look forward to your comments and questions.

I thank you.

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