David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy for Covid, has warned against comparing Covid to flu
The World Health Organization today warned against comparing Covid to flu – just days after the UK Government said it intended to treat the two viruses the same.
David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy for Covid, said the comparisons were irresponsible because they suggest coronavirus ‘has suddenly got incredibly weak’.
He told Sky News: ‘It can also mutate and form variants and we’ve seen several but we know there are more not far away.
‘So quite honestly, we are not saying that this should be considered to be like flu or indeed like anything else — it’s a new virus, and we must go on treating it as though it is full of surprises, very nasty and rather cunning.’
The official called on leaders to ‘stay focused on the job’ as he claimed we were only at the ‘halfway mark’ of the pandemic.
Parallels between coronavirus and influenza are being drawn in the UK now that Omicron is causing around the same number of deaths as a bad flu season.
Boris Johnson last week signalled his intention to lift isolation rules for Covid sufferers, highlighting that people with flu don’t legally have to quarantine.
And Health Secretary Sajid Javid pointed to the UK’s falling case numbers and relatively low hospital rates as he said ‘we need to learn to live with Covid in the same way we have to live with flu’.
Asked about the comparisons, Dr Nabarro told Sky News: ‘I keep wondering what the people who make these amazing predictions know that I and my colleagues in the WHO don’t know.
‘You see, what people are seeing from around the world and reporting to the WHO is this is still a very, very dangerous virus, especially for people who have not been vaccinated and who’ve not been exposed to it before.’
The warning against complacency came as the UK’s coronavirus cases rose for the first time in more than two weeks.
Parallels between coronavirus and influenza are being drawn in the UK now that Omicron is causing around the same number of deaths as a bad flu season. The UK Health Security Agency estimates the number of flu deaths was around 15,000 in 2016/17, with about 300 people dying every day at the peak. In 2017/18, during the Aussie flu outbreak, a total of 22,000 people were killed by influenza, with in excess of 400 dying per day at the worst of the epidemic. But in 2018/19 just 4,000 were estimated to have died to the virus, with just tens of people dying per day at the peak
Another 74,799 positive tests were recorded on Sunday, marking a 5 per cent increase on the number last week.
The crisis had been in retreat since January 5 after Omicron sent daily infections to record levels, peaking at more than 218,000.
Coronavirus cases go UP for the first time in more than two weeks: 74,799 catch virus
Britain’s Covid cases have risen with a total of 74,799 new cases reported today.
Department of Health bosses reported a further cases 74,799 cases today, an increase of 3,875 on the total number of cases reported last Sunday.
Meanwhile, official figures show there was a total of 75 deaths reported today which marked a decline of 14 per cent on last week when there were 88 Covid deaths reported.
It marks the first time the number of Covid cases has gone up for the first time since January 4 when officials reported a 57 per cent increase following the festive season.
Prior to today, official figures reported a drop in the week-on-week cases for 17 days in a row but the downward curve has slowed in the past three days, dropping by just four per cent on Friday.
The latest vaccination figures show that 19,430 first doses were administered yesterday while 42,473 doses were also doled out.
Meanwhile, the NHS also delivered a total of 68,795 boosters, according to the latest figures.
There were also 75 more Covid deaths registered yesterday, which marked a 14 per cent fall on the previous week.
There are currently 260 daily Covid deaths in England on average as the fourth wave peaks, compared to in the region of 400 from flu in a bad year.
But Dr Nabarro said it was ‘dangerous’ to compare Covid to flu and think that there will not cause future surges of the pandemic.
He told Sky News: ‘Governments have got to set the direction and not shy away from that.
‘All governments everywhere should not suggest to people that the data have suddenly changed, or the viruses suddenly got incredibly weak.
‘So all I’m asking every leader in the world to do is to help everybody stay focused on the job which is keeping this virus at bay, preventing people from getting infected if at all possible, and making certain that we are well prepared to deal with further surges as they come.’
But Dr Nabarro said that the end of the pandemic was ‘in sight’.
‘The end is in sight, but how long is it going to take to get there? What sort of difficulties will we face on the way? Those are the questions that none of us can answer because this virus continues to give us challenges and surprises.’
He added: ‘It’s as though we’re just passing the halfway mark in a marathon and we can see that yes, there is an end and fast runners are getting through ahead of us.
‘But we’ve still got a long, long way to trudge and it’s going to be tough.
It came as Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general at the WHO, said the world was at a ‘critical juncture’ in the pandemic.
Dr Ghebreyesus urged countries to work together and share vaccines and treatments to bring the acute phase of the pandemic to an end.
He said the world now has all the tools available to do so.
‘The Covid pandemic is now entering its third year and we are at a critical juncture,’ he told a press conference today.
‘We must work together to bring the acute phase of this pandemic to an end. We cannot let it continue to drag on, lurching between panic and neglect.’
The WHO’s Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, said he believed the continent was approaching a ‘pandemic endgame’.
Once the current surge of Omicron sweeping across Europe subsides, ‘there will be for quite some weeks and months a global immunity, either thanks to the vaccine or because people have immunity due to the infection, and also lowering seasonality’.
Europe has been stung by a much deadlier fourth wave which has seen the return of draconian restrictions in some nations.
The Netherlands introduced a full-blown lockdown that only ended in the middle of this month and France today revealed it will require a vaccine passport for almost all indoor activities – and a negative test or proof of recent infection won’t cut it anymore.
‘We anticipate that there will be a period of quiet before Covid may come back towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back,’ Dr Kluge said.
But Kluge cautioned that it was still too early to consider Covid-19 endemic.
‘There is a lot of talk about endemic but endemic means … that it is possible to predict what’s going to happen. This virus has surprised (us) more than once so we have to be very careful,’ Kluge said.
With Omicron spreading so widely, other variants could still emerge, he warned.
The WHO regional office for Africa also said last week that cases of Covid had plummeted in that region and deaths were declining for the first time since the Omicron-dominated fourth wave of the virus reached its peak.
Last week, Boris Johnson signalled his intention to start treating Covid more like flu, telling MPs: ‘There will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self-isolate altogether, just as we don’t place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu.
‘As Covid becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance, urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others.’
And Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that ‘we need to learn to live with Covid-19’.
He told Sky News: ‘Sadly people die of flu as well, in a bad flu year you can sadly lose about 20,000 lives but we don’t shut down our entire country and put in place lots of restrictions to deal with it. We need to continue with our lives with sensible, appropriate and proportionate measures.’