As the world marks two years of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than six million people globally, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday cautioned that it would be a “grave mistake” to think the crisis is over and voiced concern that nearly three billion people are still waiting for their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Two years ago, the lives of people around the globe were upended by a virus. COVID-19 spread quickly and relentlessly into every corner of the world — shutting down economies, choking off transportation networks and supply chains, closing schools, separating people from their loved ones, and plunging millions of people into poverty,” Guterres said in his message on two years of the pandemic.
He noted that due to “unprecedented public health measures” and the extraordinarily rapid development and deployment of vaccines, many parts of the world are bringing the pandemic under control.
“But it would be a grave mistake to think the pandemic is over,” he said.
More than 446 million cases of COVID-19 have been recorded worldwide in the two years since the pandemic began and more than six million people have died, with countless more grappling with worsening mental health, Guterres said.
The UN chief voiced concern over the “scandalously unequal” distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Manufacturers are producing 1.5 billion doses per month, but nearly three billion people are still waiting for their first shot,” he said, adding that this failure is the direct result of policy and budgetary decisions that prioritise the health of people in wealthy countries over the health of people in poor countries.
“This is a moral indictment of our world. It is also a recipe for more variants, more lockdowns and more sorrow and sacrifice in every country. Our world cannot afford a two-tier recovery from COVID-19,” he said.
“Science and solidarity have proven to be an unbeatable combination. We must re-dedicate ourselves to ending this pandemic for all people and all countries, and closing this sad chapter in humanity’s history, once and for all,” he said.
As global crises, particularly the Russia-Ukraine war, continue unabated amid the pandemic, Guterres said nations must keep their eyes on the target of vaccinating their populations.
“Despite the numerous other global crises, we must reach our goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of people in all countries by the middle of this year,” he said.
Governments and pharmaceutical companies need to work together to multiply the number of countries able to produce tests, vaccines and treatments by sharing licenses and intellectual property, and providing the necessary technological and financial support.
“At the same time, we need strong national vaccine-delivery systems at the ready — including efforts to counter disinformation and get vaccines into arms,” he added.