Photo: Pexels
Photo: Pexels

The COVID-19 outbreak began a little more than a year ago, gradually covering all seven continents and 191 countries or regions. Official records show that there have been more than 92 million cases recorded thus far, with 1.97 million deaths.

Over the last month or so however, the situation has improved somewhat. While cases continue to be recorded, multiple vaccines have joined the fray, and despite the threat posed by new mutated strains of the virus, the jabs remain effective. But even as businesses reopen their office doors and people claim that the pandemic "is over", the World Health Organisation has struck a cautionary note.

"We are going into the second year, this could be tougher given the transmission dynamics and some issues we see," Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme Michael Ryan said during a Q&A session on Wednesday.

According to an article posted to the WHO website on January 12, the organisation is currently moving to "expand its scientific collaboration and monitoring of emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2". As the report notes, while it is not unusual for vaccines to mutate, the more the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change. Put more simply, the WHO believes that greater levels of transmission can lead to new variants emerging.

“So far an astounding 350 000 sequences have been publicly shared, but most come from just a handful of countries. Improving the geographic coverage of sequencing is critical for the world to have eyes and ears on changes to the virus,” the article quotes Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19 as saying.

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Free Press Journal