The Executive Director of the World Health Organization's Emergencies Programme has said he has never seen the scale of threats and abuse against health staff and others as he has experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a University College Cork School of Public Health webinar, Dr Mike Ryan said public discourse on social media was often very abusive and fed by disinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines.

Dr Ryan said he had worked in some of the most challenging places in the world but nothing prepared him for the attacks from some quarters seen during the pandemic.

He added that he had never been more personally afraid at times.

Many people experienced threats and abuse in their work during the pandemic, Dr Ryan said, and he said the idea that you can walk up to someone and attack them and walk away is not acceptable.

Dr Ryan said he did not believe this attitude was among ordinary people in the community but he believed there was "a dark periphery" of people seeking to destroy rather than build things.

He said it was real issue that needed to be dealt with now.

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The webinar is being held with the support of UCC's Centre for Global Development.

Dr Ryan also expressed concern that the capacity to detect new variants of Covid-19 quickly has been lost.

He said there were signs that things were improving but there were also gaps.