The head of the World Health Organization has said the world can end the Covid-19 emergency this year.

"We can end Covid-19 as a global health emergency and we can do it this year," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the UN health agency's executive board.

To do so, countries need to work harder to ensure equitable access to vaccines and treatment, track the virus and its emerging variants, and keep restrictions in place, he warned.

The virus last week killed someone every 12 seconds, he said.

The WHO has for months demanded that countries do more to accelerate the distribution of vaccines in poorer nations, calling on all countries to vaccinate at least 70% of their populations by the middle of this year.

Half of the WHO's 194 member states missed the previous target of vaccinating 40% of their people by end-2021 and 85% of people in Africa were yet to receive a single jab, Dr Tedros said.

"We simply cannot end the emergency phase of the pandemic unless we bridge this gap," he said.

"On average last week, 100 cases were reported every three seconds, and somebody lost their life to Covid-19 every 12 seconds," he added.

Covid-19 has killed more than 5.5 million people since it first emerged in late 2019 and case numbers have been driven to record levels by the new Omicron variant.

Since the strain was first detected in southern Africa nine weeks ago, Dr Tedros said 80 million cases had been reported to the WHO - more than in all of 2020.

Omicron appears to cause less severe disease than previous variants and Dr Tedros confirmed that "the explosion in cases has not been matched by a surge in deaths".

The WHO chief said the world would need to learn to live with Covid.

"We will need to learn to manage it through a sustained and integrated strategy for acute respiratory diseases," he said, emphasising it was "dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant, or that this is the end game."

"On the contrary," he said, "globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge."

"The potential for a more transmissible, more deadly variant remains very real."


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Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the European Medicines Agency has said the EMA is examining emerging data on the benefits of a fourth dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but said they do not have much evidence at the moment.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Emer Cooke said the only country that has administered a lot of these doses is Israel.

However, she said the current booster is the way to go for now, and she encouraged as many people as possible to take advantage of it.

She said the EMA is still learning about the effectiveness of vaccines and how long the protection lasts, because variants have impacted on vaccine effectiveness in different ways.

There may be a transition to a situation where vaccines would be administered annually, Ms Cooke said, in a similar manner to a flu vaccine.

However, she added that this is not a regulatory decision, but one that would be reached in conjunction with the WHO and public health experts around the world.

Ms Cooke also told the programme that a range of anti-virals, including two oral anti-virals, are under investigation.

These offer use in the general healthcare system, she said, but there is limited data about them.

They are promising, she added, but there are still some areas that need to be carefully examined – including side effects and drug interactions.

She said data is still coming in, but the EMA may be able to conclude a review of one of the anti-virals this week.