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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 12 July 2021

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  • Last week marked the fourth consecutive week of increasing cases of COVID-19 globally, with increases recorded in all but one of WHO’s six regions. And after 10 weeks of declines, deaths are increasing again.

  • The Delta variant is ripping around the world at a scorching pace, driving a new spike in cases and deaths. Delta is now in more than 104 countries and we expect it to soon be the dominant COVID-19 strain circulating worldwide.

  • The global gap in vaccine supply is hugely uneven and inequitable. Over the weekend, the G20 finance ministers recognized the importance of funding the ACT Accelerator so that the world can ensure tests, treatments and vaccines are distributed equitably and I hope this translates quickly to filling the $16 billion funding gap.

  • AstraZeneca has led on licensing their vaccines around the world to increase vaccine capacity quickly. As well as Europe, India and South Korea, I am pleased to announce two more manufacturing sites, in Japan and Australia, which have now received a WHO Emergency Use Listing, bringing AstraZeneca’s EUL’s to five. We need other manufacturers to follow this example.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Last week marked the fourth consecutive week of increasing cases of COVID-19 globally, with increases recorded in all but one of WHO’s six regions.

And after 10 weeks of declines, deaths are increasing again.

We continue to hear reports from all regions of the world about hospitals reaching capacity.

The Delta variant is ripping around the world at a scorching pace, driving a new spike in cases and death.

Not everywhere is taking the same hit though, we’re in the midst of a growing two-track pandemic where the haves and have-nots within and between countries are increasingly divergent.

In places with high vaccination coverage, Delta is spreading quickly; especially infecting unprotected and vulnerable people and steadily putting pressure back on health systems.

For health workers that have been in a titanic battle for more than a year and have record waiting lists to attend to, increased hospitalisations at any level is a challenge to them and their patients and to the overall capacity of the health system.

As countries lift public health and social measures, they must consider the impact on health workers and health systems.

In countries with low vaccine coverage, the situation is particularly bad.

Delta and other highly transmissible variants are driving catastrophic waves of case, which are translating into high numbers of hospitalisations and death.

Even countries that successfully managed to ward off the early waves of the virus, through public health measures alone, are now in the midst of devastating outbreaks.

Particularly in low-income countries, exhausted health workers are battling to save lives in the midst of shortages of personal protective equipment, oxygen and treatments.

Vaccines have never been the way out of this crisis on their own, but this current wave is demonstrating again just what a powerful tool they are to battle back against this virus.

Delta is now in more than 104 countries and we expect it to soon be the dominant COVID-19 strain circulating worldwide.

The world is watching in real time as the COVID-19 virus continues to change and become more transmissible.

My message today is that we are experiencing a worsening public health emergency that further threatens lives, livelihoods and a sound global economic recovery.

It is definitely worse in places that have very few vaccines, but the pandemic is not over anywhere.

The current collective strategy reminds me of a fire fighting team taking on a forest blaze.

Hosing down part of it might reduce the flames in one area but while it’s smouldering anywhere, sparks will eventually travel and grow again into a roaring furnace.

The world should battle together to put out this pandemic inferno everywhere.

The global gap in vaccine supply is hugely uneven and inequitable.

Some countries and regions are actually ordering millions of booster doses, before other countries have had supplies to vaccinate their health workers and most vulnerable.

I ask you, who would put fire fighters on the frontline without protection?

Who are the most vulnerable to the flames of this pandemic?

The health workers on the frontlines, older persons and the vulnerable.

We are making conscious choices right now not to protect those most in need; our own fire-fighters.

Currently, data shows us that vaccination offers long lasting immunity against severe and deadly COVID-19.

The priority now must be to vaccinate those who have received no doses and protection.

Instead of Moderna and Pfizer prioritizing the supply of vaccines as boosters to countries whose populations have relatively high coverage, we need them to go all out to channel supply to COVAX, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team and low- and low-middle income countries, which have very low vaccine coverage.

Over the weekend, the G20 finance ministers recognized the importance of funding the ACT Accelerator so that the world can ensure tests, treatments and vaccines are distributed equitably and I hope this translates quickly to filling the US$16 billion funding gap.

Tens of millions of vaccine dose donations are starting to come through, but we need more and we need them faster.

We need an all-out, no regrets, accelerated building up of new vaccine manufacturing hubs.

For that to happen quicker, pharmaceutical companies must share their licenses, know how and technology.

AstraZeneca has led on licensing their vaccines around the world to increase vaccine capacity quickly.

As well as Europe, India and the Republic of Korea, I am pleased to announce two more manufacturing sites, in Japan and Australia, which have now received a WHO Emergency Use Listing, bringing AstraZeneca’s EUL’s to five.

This gives the green light for COVAX to buy vaccines from these additional facilities, and enables countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and roll out vaccines.

We need other manufacturers to follow this example.

Thousands of people are still dying every day and that deserves urgent action.

I will discuss the worsening situation on Wednesday at the IHR Emergency Committee meeting.

And next week, the World Health Organization and World Trade Organization will bring together leaders of the public and private sectors to address the shortage and inequity of vaccines and other health tools.

No more talk about vaccinating low-income countries in 2023, 2024.

This is no time for a lull, we want to see progress being built on and a surge of action to scale up the supply and sharing of lifesaving health tools.

Tarik, back to you.