As countries around the world struggle to get the ongoing coronavirus pandemic under control, to varying degrees of success, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that there is a very real possibility that the virus might never go away.
This is everything you need to know.
What did WHO say?
Speaking at a briefing on Wednesday 14 May, Dr Mike Ryan, WHO emergencies director, said that trying to predict when the virus would go away is pointless.
Dr Ryan said that he doesn’t believe that “anyone can predict when this disease will disappear”.
“I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates. This disease may settle into a long problem, or it may not be,” he explained.
“It is important to put this on the table - this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away. HIV has not gone away - but we have come to terms with the virus.”
WHO epidemiologist Maria van Krekhove also spoke at the briefing, saying, “We need to get into the mindset that it is going to take some time to come out of this pandemic.”
Currently there are over 100 potential vaccines in development. However, Dr Ryan noted that there are other illnesses, such as measles, that have not been eliminated despite having a vaccine for them.
Could another wave be triggered by easing lockdown measures?
The statements regarding the time and effort to get out from underneath the ongoing coronavirus pandemic comes as countries around the world begin to ease their lockdown restrictions.
WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom, said that with great effort, it is still possible to control the virus. However, Dr Tedros warned that there would be no way to guarantee that easing restrictions won’t trigger a second wave of infections.
“Many countries would like to get out of the different measures,” he said.
“But our recommendation is still the alert at any country should be at the highest level possible.”
Dr Ryan also added, “There is some magical thinking going on that lockdowns work perfectly and that unlocking lockdowns will go great. Both are fraught with dangers.”
Mental health crisis
A report from the WHO mental health department, submitted to the UN, warned that the pandemic doesn’t only threaten physical health, but mental health as well.
The mental health department director, Devora Kestel, said, “The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil - they call cause or could cause psychological distress.”
Kestel said that the world should be prepared to see a spike in the severity of mental illness - including among children, young people and healthcare workers.
“The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently,” the director said.
Kestel advised that governments should be putting this issue at the “front and centre” of their responses.