COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan: 1 February 2021 to 31 January 2022

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Epidemiological situation

COVID-19 has spread around the world, affecting every country directly or indirectly (figure 1). Its capacity for rapid spread means COVID-19 has sometimes overwhelmed even the most resilient health systems.

As of 7 February 2021, more than 105 million cases had been reported worldwide, and more than 2.2 million people were reported to have died (figure 2). In addition, increasing indirect mortality has been documented worldwide as health systems disruptions associated with the pandemic and response measures have impacted care for other health conditions.

The pandemic continues to evolve. The number of cases and deaths globally continue to increase. In the most recent week for which data are complete (the week commencing 1 February 2021), almost 90 000 deaths were reported globally, and more than 3 million new cases (figure 2). However, these headline figures obscure marked variation amongst WHO regions (figure 3), amongst countries, and within countries. Trends in incidence and mortality are downwards or stable in many countries, but these trends may not reflect the real evolution of the epidemic in countries where testing capacity is limited. In countries experiencing rapid rises in incidence, capacities for case investigation, contact tracing, and quarantine are often put under additional pressure.

Males account for a higher proportion of deaths than females (57% of deaths but only 51% of cases), for reasons that are not completely understood, highlighting the need for sex-sensitive and gender-sensitive approaches to response. Women are at an increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and are often disproportionately affected by the social and economic implications of response measures. These impacts include, but are not limited to, a loss of sexual and reproductive health services, increased expectations to deliver unpaid care at home and in the community, and a steep rise in the incidence of gender-based violence. These periods of peak demand for social protection and refuge services coincide with periods that these services have been significantly curtailed due to COVID-19. In countries that report data disaggregated by social determinant of health such as ethnicity, occupation, education, living conditions, and income, there notable disparities in terms of exposure, vulnerability, access to health services, and health outcomes in the context of COVID-19.