The World Health Organization warned Thursday that it is struggling to identify and track new variants of coronavirus as governments decrease testing and surveillance practices.
The WHO is concerned that this will threaten the progress made in fighting the virus.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said COVID-19 is still circulating around the world at an “incredibly intense level” and that the organization is “deeply concerned” that the virus is evolving, as there is no longer mass testing in place to help identify new variants quickly.
During an update in Geneva, Van Kerkhove told reporters, “Our ability to track variants and subvariants around the world is diminishing because surveillance is declining. That limits our ability to assess the known variants and subvariants but also our ability to track and identify new ones.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday that, as the virus continues to change, there is the “ever present risk of more dangerous variants emerging” and that “the pandemic is not over, but the end is in sight.”
“We have spent two and a half years in a long, dark tunnel; and we’re just beginning to glimpse the light at the end of that tunnel. But it’s still a long way off, and the tunnel is still dark with many obstacles that could trip us up if we don’t take care,” Tedros added.
Van Kerkhove said the WHO is currently tracking approximately 200 omicron sublineages, and it is watching omicron BA.2.75, BF.7 and BA.4.6, among other subvariants, closely. She added that health experts are not able to yet accurately predict how big COVID surges will be from season to season, saying, “We don’t yet have predictability with SARS-CoV-2 like we have other types of pathogens where we expect a seasonality. We may get there, but we’re not there … That’s the message: We’re not there yet.”
Tedros added that the world is now in a “significantly better position” than at any other time during the pandemic, even though over 9,800 people throughout the world died from COVID during the week ending Sept. 18, down 17% from the week before. “In most countries restrictions have ended, and life looks much like it did before the pandemic. But 10,000 deaths a week is 10,000 too many when most of these deaths could be prevented,” he said.