WHO urges countries to continue COVID testing, surveillance

Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 16 2022 07:35 PM

People walk beside a COVID-19 testing center along Kamuning Avenue in Quezon City on March 17, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file
People walk beside a COVID-19 testing center along Kamuning Avenue in Quezon City on March 17, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA – The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday reminded countries to maintain COVID-19 testing and surveillance in order not to lose track of the movement and evolution of the virus.

In a social media question and answer session, Dr. Abdi Rahman Mahamud, COVID-19 Incident Manager for WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, likened the world’s battle against COVID-19 to a “tug of war."

“It’s a tug of war between us and the virus. We build our wall to a certain level and the virus tries to come over. That defense mechanism that we have been building through vaccination, how strong are those walls? The moment we relax, we give the virus a chance to know our weakness and outsmart us,” Mahamud said. 

But a point of concern, he said, is how some countries have lessened testing either because of accessibility or issues that have to do with their priorities.

“What we’ve been calling out with this acute phase is to increase the investments required in surveillance, increase the laboratory PCR capacity. What we are seeing more and more are people doing rapid test at home and non of those tests are getting reported in the system,” he said.

“If the input has reduced, the sequence has drastically gone down. So we are flying blind so it’s very uncomfortable to understand what the BA.4 and BA.5 means.”

The decrease in testing comes as new COVID-19 cases declined globally since the peak of the omicron surge in January 2022.

From June 6 to 12, over 3.2 million new cases were reported which is similar to the figures the week prior.

However, global deaths saw a 4% increase with 8,700 fatalities reported for the same period.

The decline in cases has inevitably led to public complacency, especially since severe and critical forms of the disease have also decreased among those who have completed their primary series and have had additional protection through boosters.

But the WHO is quick to remind the world not to underestimate COVID-19.

“It’s not the same as influenza. Influenza has some kind of predictability in terms of seasonality that we see in temperate regions. We don’t have that with SARS-CoV2 yet,” said WHO Technical Lead for COVID-19, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove.

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