Virus deaths to top 100,000 a week: WHO

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is urging countries and manufacturers to spread vaccine doses fairly.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is urging countries and manufacturers to spread vaccine doses fairly.

Global deaths from the coronavirus are expected to top 100,000 per week "very soon" from more than 93,000 reported last week, the World Health Organisation's top emergency expert Mike Ryan says.

In an epidemiological update provided to the WHO's exective board meeting, he added that the Americas region accounted for about 47 per cent of current deaths.

In Europe, cases and deaths are stabilising but at a high level, he said.

"Currently our epidemiological situation is dynamic and uneven, it's futher complicated by variants," he told the board.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday criticised drug makers' profits and vaccine inequalities, saying it's "not right" that younger, healthier adults in wealthy countries get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older people or healthcare workers in poorer countries.

Tedros kicked off the WHO's week-long executive board meeting - virtually from its headquarters in Geneva - by lamenting that one poor country received a mere 25 vaccine doses while more than 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer countries.

"Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country -- not 25 million, not 25,000 -- just 25. I need to be blunt: The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure," Tedros said.

He did not specify the country but a WHO spokeswoman identified it as Guinea.

"It's right that all governments want to prioritise vaccinating their own health workers and older people first," he said.

"But it's not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries. There will be enough vaccine for everyone."

Tedros, an Ethiopian, nonetheless hailed the scientific achievement behind rolling out coronavirus vaccines less than a year after the virus was first detected in China, where a WHO-backed team has now been deployed to look into origins of the pandemic.

"Vaccines are the shot in the arm we all need, literally and figuratively," Tedros said.

"But we now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the worlds of the haves and have-nots."

He noted the WHO-backed COVAX program, which aims to get vaccines out to all countries based on need has so far secured 2 billion vaccine doses from five producers and options on a billion doses more.

"We aim to start deliveries in February," he said.

"COVAX is ready to deliver what it was created for."

That target date could be a tall order because a key producer of vaccines for the developing world - the Serum Institute of India - has not confirmed a date and predicted that its roll-out might not happen before March or April.

Australian Associated Press