It's "unrealistic" to think the COVID-19 pandemic will be over before the end of the year, a top World Health Organisation (WHO) official stressed on Monday.
Dr Michael Ryan, director of WHO's emergencies programme, told reporters from the organisation's headquarters in Geneva that "right now the virus is very much in control".
"It will be premature, and I think unrealistic, to think that we're going to finish with this virus by the end of the year."
He noted however that "if the vaccines begin to impact not only on death and not only on hospitalisation, but have a significant impact on transmission dynamics and transmission risk, then I believe we will accelerate toward controlling this pandemic."
"If we're smart, we can finish with the hospitalisations and the deaths and the tragedy associated with the pandemic" before the end of the year, he went on.
The number of new cases rose globally in the week ending February 22 — the first weekly increase recorded since early January. Confirmed cases roses in the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, and South-East Asia.
WHO chief, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that "this is disappointing, but not surprising."
"We're working to better understand these increases in COVID-19 transmission. Some of it appears to be due to relaxing of public health measures, continued circulation of variants, and people letting down their guard," he added.
He reiterated his call for greater vaccine solidarity, stressing that "countries are not in a race with each other, this is a common race against the COVID-19 virus."
"It's regrettable that some countries continue to prioritise vaccinating younger, healthier adults at lower risk of disease in their own populations ahead of health workers and older people elsewhere."
"We're not asking countries to put their own people at risk. We're asking all countries to be part of a global effort to suppress the virus everywhere," he said.
The WHO wants vaccination against the deadly virus to have started in every single country within the first 100 days of the year.
Dr Tedros flagged that Ghana and the Ivory Coast became the first countries on Monday to start their vaccination campaign with doses provided by the COVAX programme.
The programme will deliver 237 million doses of vaccines to 140 participating countries before the end of May.