The World Health Organization (WHO) Thursday called on the global community to ensure all nations have at least 70% of their populations vaccinated by July of this year, saying the pandemic will not end until it happens.
During a COVID-19 briefing at agency headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also called on wealthy nations to ensure breakthrough treatments, and reliable COVID-19 tests, are available in all countries.
Tedros said while the situation improved by the end of 2021, vaccine and health inequity overall was the biggest failure of the year. He said while some countries have enough protective equipment, tests and vaccines to last through the pandemic, “many countries do not have enough to meet basic baseline needs or modest targets.”
The WHO chief blamed, at least in part, vaccine inequities for creating “the perfect conditions for the emergence of virus variants,” such as delta and omicron, which, globally, led to 9.5 million new cases last week, the highest number reported so far in the pandemic.
Tedros said the virus that causes COVID-19 will continue to evolve and threaten the world’s health systems if the collective response does not improve.
Meanwhile, Austria's government Thursday announced new measures, including mandatory use of masks outdoors to slow the spread of COVID-19 driven by the omicron variant in the Alpine country.
At a news briefing, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said the government will also more strictly monitor measures already in place, such as banning the unvaccinated from stores and cultural venues, beginning next week. He also said companies not complying with government restrictions could be closed.
Austria lowered its COVID-19 infection rates by going into a lockdown for several weeks at the end of last year, but those numbers have crept back up in recent days.