The pandemic caused by the coronavirus “will not be the last pandemic, and epidemics are a fact of life,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a video message Sunday.
The world must learn from COVID-19 and address “the intimate links between the health of humans, animals and the planet,” Tedros said in his remarks for the first International Day of Epidemic Preparedness.
“For too long the world has operated on a cycle of panic and neglect,” he said. “We throw money at one epidemic and when it's over, we forget about it and do nothing to prevent the next one.”
Tedros said every country needs to invest in what he called the supply of care: the ability to avoid, detect and mitigate all kinds of emergencies.
The WHO chief’s warning came as the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus arrived in European Union countries, with the first shots going into arms Saturday.
In Germany, 101-year-old Edith Kwoizalla, who lives in a retirement home, received the first of her two shots. In Hungary, it was a doctor, Arienne Kertesz from South Pest. In Slovakia, an infectious disease specialist was the first in line.
The first shipments were limited to 10,000 doses in most EU countries. Each decides its own vaccination program, but all are vaccinating the most vulnerable first.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it “a touching moment of unity” in a video celebrating the beginning of the rollout of the vaccine to nearly 450 million people.
“Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year. The COVID-19 vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries. Vaccination will begin tomorrow across the EU," she said.
Other countries, including Russia, which said on Saturday that it had passed 3 million cases, the United Kingdom, the United States and Mexico started vaccinating people in early December. Russia approved its main coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, for use in people older than 60, Russian media quoted the health ministry as saying.
As those vaccinations were ramping up, several countries Saturday confirmed cases of the British variant of the coronavirus. Canada reported a couple from southern Ontario with no travel history, exposure or high-risk contact had tested positive for the variant. Italy, Sweden, Spain and Japan joined France, Germany, Lebanon and Denmark in reporting cases of the new strain of the coronavirus.
The new strain is 50% to 74% more contagious than its predecessors, according to a study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, raising fears of more hospitalizations and deaths in 2021 than in 2020.
Effective Monday, U.S. authorities said, passengers arriving from Britain must test negative for COVID-19 before departure.