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WHO Special Envoy on Covid-19, David Nabarro Alamy Stock Photo
David Nabarro

WHO Special Envoy anticipates Covid-19 will become milder, but warns against reopening quickly

Nabarro said that while countries should hope for the best, they should expect difficulties to arrive.

A WHO SPECIAL Envoy says that the world is coming into a “turning point” with Covid-19, but that it will not be plain sailing in the weeks ahead.

The WHO Special Envoy on Covid-19, David Nabarro, said that he believed that a “turning point” with Covid-19 had been reached due to the arrival of the more transmissible Omicron variant.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Nabarro said that Omicron, while more transmissible, appears to inflict less serious illness on those who catch it and that over time, Covid-19 will become milder.

“Our anticipation is that this new coronavirus that we first met at the beginning of 2020 will over time, become a perfectly calm virus that does not cause major illness,” said Nabarro

“Perhaps leads to occasionally a few people, unfortunately, getting severely ill, but otherwise it will be a little bit like the common cold.

“That’s where we think this virus is eventually is headed, but it’s not there yet.”

However, Nabarro did warn that it would not be “plain sailing” in the weeks ahead as cases of Omicron reach their peak around the world, and that some health systems may be overwhelmed due to the volume of cases.

Nabarro also cautioned the relaxation of restrictions, saying that while countries should “hope for the best”, they should expect difficulties to arrive.

“My general point to everybody is simply, you know, hope for the best, but expect all sorts of challenging difficulties.

That means having plans for some degree of restriction on movements, probably local, if we get a bad surge and suddenly health services get overwhelmed and people start to perish.

“You have to make your plans based on what we’ve learned about this virus and that is it’s really cunning and difficult to deal with.”

Nabarro said that it was about “balancing risk” on whether or not restrictions should be eased, and that it should be done on public health grounds rather than around concerns for any particular industry.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) are expected to meet on Thursday to discuss the relaxation of some restrictions, with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar saying yesterday that he expects all restrictions to be lifted by the summer.

Varadkar said that he would be lobbying for a broader and faster reopening, and that restrictions would be relaxed on a phased basis over the coming months.

“I also do think we’re coming to the point where we also need to move on. We’ve had very strict restrictions in Ireland for two years now,” said Varadkar, speaking on RTÉ’s This Week yesterday.

“If you take last summer, the summer before that, we had the strictest rules in Europe. I don’t think that should be the case this summer.

I’ll be pushing for a more ambitious and a quicker reopening over the next couple of months – nothing risky, nothing reckless but certainly something that’s in line with our European peers.”

 Varadkar gave 31 March as his aim for the lifting of restrictions, the same day when Covid-19 legislation is slated to end.

“I think that should be the aim. As you know, all the legislation actually falls on 31 March, (it) can be extended by three months.

“And you know, one thing I said yesterday to my party, is that on many occasions, we’ve acted out of an abundance of caution. But sometimes an abundance of caution can be an excess of caution. And we need to avoid that.

“And I’m very keen to see the reopening happening at an ambitious pace over the next few weeks next few months,” he added. 

New variants

On the emergence of any new variants, Nabarro said that he did not expect a variant that is more lethal and more transmissible than Omicron to emerge, saying that it was “really unlikely”.

“Now if another variant is going to come in and replace Omicron firstly it would need to be more easily transmissible than Omicron,” said Nabarro.

Now will a more easily transmissible variant also be more lethal? Well, most of the people to whom I have spoken are saying that’s really unlikely to happen.

“if we get more lethal variants, we expect them to be less transmissible and in the end, unlikely to displace Omicron as the dominant variety.”

- Additional reporting by Niall O’Connor

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