Noting that over 3.3 million people have lost their lives to COVID-19 this year - more deaths than from HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined in 2020 -- WHO has said that "2022 must be the year we end the pandemic".
"2022 must also be the year that all countries invest in preventing a future disaster on this scale, and in accelerating efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing on Monday (local time), stressing that "2022 must be the year we end the pandemic."
"That means investing in resilient health systems, built on primary health care, with universal health coverage as the goal," he added.
Tedros informed that more than 3.3 million people have lost their lives to COVID-19 this year - more deaths than from HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined in 2020, and still, COVID-19 continues to claim around 50 000 lives every week.
"That's not to mention the unreported deaths, and the millions of excess deaths caused by disruptions to essential health services," he added.
Underlining that Africa is now facing a steep wave of infections, driven largely by the Omicron variant, Tedros said that just a month ago, Africa was reporting its lowest number of cases in 18 months. Last week, it reported the fourth-highest number of cases in a single week so far.
"There is now consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant. And it is more likely that people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 could be infected or reinfected," he added.
Referring to the holiday season, Tedros said that there can be no doubt that increased social mixing over the holiday period in many countries will lead to increased cases, overwhelmed health systems and more deaths.
"All of us are sick of this pandemic. All of us want to spend time with friends and family. All of us want to get back to normal. The fastest way to do that is for all of us - leaders and individuals - to make the difficult decisions that must be made to protect ourselves and others," he added.
Emphasising that in some cases events may be cancelled or delayed, Tedros said, "But an event cancelled is better than a life cancelled."
Stressing that it is better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later, he said: "None of us wants to be here again in 12 months' time, talking about missed opportunities, continued inequity, or new variants."
Tedros also urged countries to get 70 per cent of every country's population vaccinated.
"If we are to end the pandemic in the coming year, we must end inequity, by ensuring 70 per cent of the population of every country is vaccinated by the middle of next year," he added.
"Last week, WHO issued Emergency Use Listing for a ninth vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India under license from Novavax. This new vaccine is part of the COVAX portfolio, and we hope that it will play an important role in achieving our global vaccination targets," the WHO chief added further.
Underlining that even before the pandemic, one billion people were spending more than 10 per cent of their household budget on health care, he said that when people can not access the services they need, or can not afford them, individuals, families, communities and entire societies are put at risk.
"In the year ahead, WHO is committed to doing everything in our power to end the pandemic, and to beginning a new era in global health - an era in which health is at the centre of every country's development plans," he added.