WHO seeks sharpened response to virus outbreaks

Photo taken on Jan 22, 2020 shows an exterior view of the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. (LIU QU / XINHUA)

COPENHAGEN — The World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe called for urgent strategies and tools on Tuesday to control and eradicate COVID-19, monkeypox and polio.

“With autumn and winter approaching, we anticipate a surge in cases, with or without a resurgence of seasonal influenza in Europe,” Hans Kluge, regional director of WHO Europe, told a news conference on Tuesday.

Coronavirus has claimed 3,000 lives in the European region in the last week alone, accounting for roughly one-third of the global total, the WHO said

Coronavirus has claimed 3,000 lives in the European region in the last week alone, accounting for roughly one-third of the global total, the WHO said.

The recently launched COVID-19 autumn and winter strategy in the European region outlines what countries must do to control both SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses, Kluge emphasized.

Meanwhile, there have been over 22,000 confirmed cases of monkey[1]pox across 43 countries in the European region, accounting for one[1]third of the global total. However, Kluge believes Europe can eliminate sustained human-to-human transmission of monkeypox in the region “if we commit to doing so and put the necessary resources toward that end”.

The outbreak may be slowing in France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and other countries, but Europeans must urgently “step up our efforts”, Kluge said.

This week, the WHO released two comprehensive policy briefs: one outlining the policy objectives and steps required for the control and eventual elimination of monkeypox, and the other focusing specifically on the use of monkeypox vaccines.

These “provide a clear message on what we believe our ultimate aim is: to first control, and ultimately achieve and sustain elimination of monkeypox infection in the European region”, Kluge said.

Health officials in the southern state of Texas confirmed the death of a person diagnosed with monkey[1]pox on Tuesday, the first of its kind publicly reported by authorities in the United States. If monkeypox is confirmed as the cause, it will be the first confirmed death from the virus in the US, local media reported. However, health officials said it was too early to say for sure what role monkeypox played in the death.

The adult patient, who was “severely immune compromised” and had “various severe illnesses”, died in a hospital in Harris County on Sunday, reported CBS News citing Texas health officials.

The patient’s autopsy result is expected “in the next few weeks”, the report said.

So far, the US has seen 18,100 cases of monkeypox across the country since the outbreak began in the spring, and 93 percent of cases occurred among men who reported recent sexual contact with men.

 As of Monday, monkeypox has claimed 15 lives around the world, excluding the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People line up outside a COVID-19 walk-in clinic in Montreal, Canada, on Sept 29, 2020. (PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS VIA AP)


Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, said on Wednesday that residents can come out of isolation with a mask as soon as 24 hours after their COVID-19 symptoms dissipate, under a strategy to homogenize guidance for all respiratory illnesses.

Asymptomatic COVID-positive residents, as well as those who come in contact with an infected person, can go to work or school but they must wear a face mask for 10 days, the Ontario government said.

The province previously asked the public to isolate for five days from the onset of COVID symptoms.

The relaxation in guidance is possible thanks to “hybrid immunity” from vaccination and exposure to different coronavirus strains as well treatments like Paxlovid, Ontario’s chief medical officer, Kieran Moore, said at a briefing.

A health worker collects a swab sample from a woman at a COVID-19 testing center outside a municipal administration building in southern coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, July 29, 2020. (PETROS KARADJIAS / AP)


Cyprus on Wednesday said it would end all restrictions on gatherings and the mandatory use of face masks in most areas after cases of COVID-19 were declining.

Effective Wednesday, all restrictions on public or private gatherings would be eased, while wearing face masks would only be compulsory in areas such as hospitals, care homes and on public transport, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela said.

"After three years of the pandemic, I am happy to say we are significantly easing existing restrictions as epidemiological factors have markedly improved," he said in a statement.

Authorities still recommended face masks in areas of mass gatherings and for people to do self-tests once a week, he said.

Food and Drug Administration building is shown Thursday, Dec 10, 2020 in Silver Spring, Md. (MANUEL BALCE CENETA / AP)


The US Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized updated COVID-19 booster shots from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna that target the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, as the government prepares for a broad fall vaccination campaign that could begin within days.

The new vaccines also include the original version of the virus targeted by all the previous COVID shots.

The FDA authorized the shots for everyone ages 12 and older who has had a primary vaccination series and is at least two months out from a previous booster shot, shorter than prior recommended intervals.

Dr. Peter Marks, a senior FDA official overseeing vaccines, said he hopes the shots will restore the very good protection against symptomatic disease that the original vaccines offered when launched in late 2020 and early 2021."We don't know for a fact yet whether we will get to that same level, but that is the goal here," Marks said.

The government has begun working on the fall rollout, which could start soon after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) outside expert panel meets on Thursday and agency Director Rochelle Walensky makes a final recommendation.