Virus expected to last long-term despite global vaccine rollout

STOCKHOLM (AFP) – The head of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned that COVID-19 could last indefinitely even as global infections slowed by nearly half in the last month and vaccine rollouts gathered pace in parts of the world.

ECDC Chief Andrea Ammon urged countries not to drop their guard against a virus that “seems very well adapted to humans” and may require experts to tweak vaccines over time.

“So we should be prepared that it will remain with us,” according to Ammon, head of the Stockholm-based ECDC.

After the latest harsh wave of a pandemic that started in China more than a year ago, glimmers of hope flickered as an AFP database showed the rate of new COVID-19 infections has slowed by 44.5 per cent worldwide over the past month.

Over 107 million people have been infected worldwide and nearly 2.4 million have died from COVID-19.

But disease experts warned that vaccines will not end the pandemic unless all countries receive doses in a fast and fair manner.

Writing in an open letter published in the Lancet medical journal, the authors said with vaccine stockpiling in wealthier countries, “it could be years before the coronavirus is brought under control at a global level”.

The warning came as United States (US) vaccine maker Moderna said it was seeking clearance with regulators around the world to put 50 per cent more coronavirus vaccine into each of its vials as a way to quickly boost current supply levels.

In Britain, a marked drop in infections and accelerating vaccinations have prompted some within the governing Conservative Party to push for stay-at-home rules to be lifted in early March.

Much of the country re-entered lockdown in early January to curb a more transmissible COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom (UK).

The British government nonetheless voiced caution, a watchword echoed elsewhere, including Italy, Portugal and Australia.

‘IT’S ROUGH’

In Australia, over six million people in Melbourne and its surrounding area were under an emergency five-day coronavirus lockdown.

“It’s rough. It’s going to be a rough few days for everyone,” said tennis star Serena Williams, reacting to the lockdown moments after her latest victory at the Australian Open.

While play will continue under the restrictions, fans will no longer be permitted and players must restrict themselves to biosecure “bubbles”.

The toll on sports, entertainment and economies continued to be massive.

The Tokyo Olympic Games are due to open in July after multiple delays.

But the games organisers are already battling public misgivings about holding the huge international event this summer.