WHO on loosening of COVID-19 restrictions: ‘We can’t will it away’

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World Health Organization (WHO) leaders on Thursday said that the world needs to remain vigilant about COVID-19 – even as pandemic trends in some countries appear to be heading in a positive direction. 

In a Q&A, Dr. Mike Ryan and Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove expressed concern over public perception of the pandemic as winding down. 


In recent months, health leaders have eased or loosened restrictions and measures like mask-wearing or requiring proof of vaccination against the virus. 

Ryan, the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said there are still scenarios where the world could “reset” the pandemic. 

He said that is “within our control” – a choice towards a better future, instead of destiny.

While normalization is something the agency wants to see, Ryan noted, what they “don’t want to see is a situation where we minimize the uncertainty we’re facing.”

“Or, we minimize potential scenarios in which things can go wrong. We don’t want people sitting up day and night worried about what’s going to happen with SARS-CoV-2, or COVID,” he stated. 

And so, the world needs to maintain vigilance and “keep pushing,” Ryan added, because it’s not through a phase where coronavirus could be regarded “as any other virus.” 


“Any other virus isn’t killing 52,000 people around the world at a low estimate and 10 million cases every week. That’s not just any other virus,” he remarked. 

Van Kerkhove, the WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead, said that she was worried about a decrease in testing. 

The infectious disease epidemiologist also urged the world to remain vigilant as “[we are] still in this flood.” 

“What we don’t want to be doing is right now live through inaction because we’re tired of it,” Van Kerkhove remarked. 

“You’ll continue to hear our frustration because we are all living this every day and we want this over as much as you do, but we can’t will it away and we’re still very much in this flood,” she said.

To date, data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center shows that more than six million COVID-related deaths have been reported worldwide, with more than 967,000 in the U.S. 

However, pandemic deaths are likely to be underreported, with a study out on Thursday finding that 18 million people had died due to the pandemic by the end of 2021.