WHO: ‘Virus may never go away’

WHO says that COVID-19 could become endemic, like HIV, and warns against predicting how long it will keep circulating.

The World Health Organization has warned that the novel coronavirus “may never go away” as its experts predicted that a global mental health crisis caused by the pandemic was looming.

The global health body cautioned against trying to predict how long coronavirus would keep circulating, and called for a “massive effort” to overcome it.

“This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities,” Dr Mike Ryan of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme said.

“And this virus may never go away. HIV has not gone away. Well, we’ve come to terms with the virus, and we have found the therapies, and we’ve found the prevention methods. And people don’t feel as scared as they did before. And we’re offering life to people with HIV.”

Dr Ryan said he was not comparing the two diseases, but warned that that people should remain “realistic”.

“I don’t think anyone can predict when or if this disease will disappear,” he said. “We do have one great hope. If we do find a highly effective vaccine that we can distribute to everyone who needs it and the world, we may have a shot at eliminating this virus. But that vaccine will have to be available. It’ll have to be highly effective. It will have to be made available to everyone. And we will have to use it.”

A report by the WHO’s mental health department to the UN warned of another looming crisis: “The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil – they all cause or could cause psychological distress,” said the department’s director, Devora Kestel.

She said the world could expect to see a surge in the severity of mental illness, including among children, young people and healthcare workers.

This report was produced and edited by Al Jazeera NewsFeed’s Hassan Ghani.