The World Health Organization chief on Monday warned that as the northern hemisphere enters winter, new coronavirus cases have started to rise sharply, especially in Europe and North America, and the next few months will be difficult.

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said at a twice-weekly webinar that all governments must focus on the fundamentals that help to break the chains of COVID-19 transmission and to save both lives and livelihoods.

“As the northern hemisphere enters winter, we’re seeing cases accelerate – particularly in Europe and North America,” said Tedros.

Mike Ryan, the director of WHO’s emergency response program, also said: “It’s very tough for countries right now and in Europe and North America. “

“Going back into another phase of potential lockdowns, people are exhausted; they are tired.”

He said, “And I think as we move into the next few weeks, and as Europe and others will experience high numbers of cases, we must protect the vulnerable, we must protect the health system.

“We must try if we can to keep our kids at school, we must also be prepared potentially, to give up and continue to give up some of those things that we love to do.”

Battling fatigue

Tedros, for his part, said it is encouraging to see many leaders communicating with the public about targeted measures that are needed to slow the virus’ spread and protect healthcare workers and systems.

Yet, as cases go up, the number of people needing beds in hospitals and intensive care also rises.

“Nurses and doctors have a much better understanding of how best to treat people with the virus than they did in the early days of the pandemic,” said Tedros.

“However, when hospital capacity is reached and exceeded, it is a very difficult and dangerous situation for both patients and health workers alike.”

Tedros stressed again that physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand hygiene, coughing safely into an arm, avoiding crowds, and meeting people outside where possible are needed.

“And when you have to be inside with others – open windows and ensure good ventilation with non-recirculating air,” he stressed.

“I know there’s fatigue, but the virus has shown that when we let our guard down, it can surge back at breakneck speed and threaten hospitals and health systems.”

On a positive note, Tedros said that 184 countries are now part of the Gavi, CEPI and WHO-led COVAX initiative for vaccine access.

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