GENEVA: The sacrifices made to protect people during the coronavirus pandemic must not be squandered over the festive period, the World Health Organisation’s chief said in a Christmas message.
Millions were making "heart-wrenching sacrifices" by staying away from loved ones on Christmas Day, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a video clip posted to Twitter late on Thursday, while others will have a missing face at the family table.
He said vaccines, now beginning to be deployed in countries around the world, were starting to offer a way out of the crisis that has engulfed the planet this year. "As 2020 draws to an end, a pandemic of historic proportions is preventing many of us from celebrating in the ways we would like," Tedros said.
"Instead, hundreds of millions of people are today making great, heart-wrenching sacrifices by staying apart to stay safe. "But in doing so, they are giving the most precious gifts: the gifts of life and health."
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1.7 million people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, while almost 78.7 million cases have been registered, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
"All around the world, throughout this most trying of years, we have seen over and over again the sacrifices of so many people to protect and preserve life," said Tedros. "We must not squander their sacrifices, nor those made by so many families who, this holiday season, will sit at family tables missing a familiar face.
"Despite so much loss, we have built so much hope. Vaccines are offering the world a way out of this tragedy. But it will take time for the whole world to be vaccinated." According to the WHO’s overview of different candidate vaccines, 61 have entered human trials, 16 of which have reached final-stage mass testing.
A further 172 candidate vaccines are being developed in laboratories with a view to eventual human testing. Tedros said: "We must continue taking comfort in the fact that by caring for others, through acts of solidarity and safety, we can share the greatest gift of all: the gift of life.
"Meanwhile, US authorities announced late on Thursday that passengers arriving on flights from the United Kingdom will need to test negative for coronavirus before departure, the latest restriction imposed due to a new Covid-19 variant.
News of the strain, believed to be more transmissible, led to nations around the world closing their borders to travelers from the UK.The new rule takes effect Monday and requires a negative test within 72 hours of departure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.
"This additional testing requirement will fortify our protection of the American public to improve their health and safety and ensure responsible international travel," it added.
The US in March halted the arrival of foreign nationals who had visited the UK in the preceding two weeks, which significantly cut air traffic from there.Some airlines, including British Airways and Delta, had already agreed to require passengers test negative before departure to New York from Britain because of the new strain.
European Union governments have begun easing travel bans on the UK put in place to contain the variant, with nations being urged to reopen their borders with mandatory tests for arrivals.The co-founder of BioNTech -- one of the firms behind the vaccine that is being rolled out worldwide this week -- has said its drug is "highly likely" to work against the mutated strain detected in Britain and otherwise can be adapted in six weeks.
More than 25 million coronavirus cases have been officially recorded in Europe, according to an AFP tally based on official health statistics at 1100 GMT on Friday.The 52 nations are the world’s worst affected zone in terms of the number of infections, followed by the US and Canada at 19,188,172, Latin America and the Caribbean at 15,024,469 and Asia at 13,617,004. Europe was the first global region to clock half-a-million deaths on December 17.