Covid-19 ‘not going away’, UN chief says in bleak holiday message

Africa will not meet a 70 per cent vaccination target until 2024 — two years behind schedule

A syringe shortage in Africa is only exacerbating health care issues there. Photo: AP

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday said that more than half of the world’s countries have not met vaccination targets, as the fast-spreading Omicron variant upends holiday plans around the globe.

Mr Guterres, who was working from his home in New York due to a coronavirus outbreak among his senior staff, said 98 countries would not meet a UN target of vaccinating 40 per cent of their populations by the end of the year.

Some 40 countries have barely vaccinated 10 per cent of their populations and the poorest nations are faring even worse, he said. He added that a second World Health Organisation goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of people by mid-2022 is also at risk.

“Covid-19 is not going away,” Mr Guterres said in a video briefing with reporters.

“Transmissions show no sign of letting up. This is driven by vaccine inequity, hesitancy and complacency.”

Vaccination rates in rich countries are eight times higher than those in Africa, which will not reach the 70 per cent target until August 2024 at current rates, he said.

The uneven distribution of vaccines, he added, has given rise to mutations of the pathogen — as was the case with the Omicron variant, first detected by scientists in South Africa, where only about 26 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

“Vaccine inequity is giving variants a free pass to run wild — ravaging the health of people and economies in every corner of the globe,” he said.

Mr Guterres made his comments as companies in New York and beyond cancelled annual holiday parties and told staff to work from home amid spikes in infections believed to be driven by the Omicron variant.

Britain, for example, has registered record daily numbers of new Covid infections, with more than 88,000 reported this week, leaving Britons joining long lines to receive booster shots and scrambling to make alternative Christmas plans.

“We know how to make 2022 a happier and more hopeful new year,” said Mr Guterres.

“We must do all it takes to make it happen.”

Updated: December 16th 2021, 7:03 PM