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WHO chief says 2022 must be year 'we end the pandemic'

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gives a press conference on December 20, 2021 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.   -  
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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

The World Health Organization chief called Monday for the world to pull together and make the difficult decisions needed to end the Covid-19 pandemic within the next year.

"2022 must be the year we end the pandemic," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.

As the end-of-year festivities approach, the UN health agency chief acknowledged that "all of us want to spend time with friends and family. All of us want to get back to normal".

But, he said, to get back to normal, we need to protect ourselves now as cases, fuelled by the fast-spreading Omicron variant, surge.

Since it was first reported in South Africa in November, Omicron has been identified in dozens of countries, dashing hopes that the worst of the pandemic is over.

Despite indications, it is not more severe than the Delta variant -- still, the dominant strain -- Omicron has been shown in early data to have higher transmissibility and a worrying resistance to vaccines.

With cases rising rapidly, Tedros stressed it was better to cancel events "now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later."

"We have to focus now on ending this pandemic."

Tedros insisted it was possible to halt the pandemic but said it would require using all the tools are our disposal, ranging from vaccines to mask-wearing and physical distancing.

And perhaps most importantly, the world needed to end the glaring inequity in access to vaccines.

"If we are to end the pandemic in the coming year, we must end inequity," he said.