WHO: We Don’t Know What Long-Term Effects of Covid-19 Will Be

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said evidence suggests that spikes of cases in some countries are being driven “in part by younger people letting down their guard during the northern hemisphere summer” and reminded that “young people are not invincible.”

Speaking at a press conference in Geneva today (30 Jul), Tedros said, although older people are at a higher risk of severe disease, younger people are at risk too. He added, “One of the challenges we face is convincing younger people of this risk.”

The head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, Michael Ryan said although COVID-19 causes an inflammatory disease in the lungs, “but it’s also been clearly demonstrated that the inflammatory process extends into the cardiovascular system, into the blood, into the heart, potentially into other organs.” He added, “We just don’t know what the long-term impacts of those infections will be.”

Ryan said inflammatory responses can also do long-term damage in themselves, He noted that any inflammatory process in the cardiovascular system “can lead to longer term heart disease and can actually accelerate other chronic heart conditions that may develop much later in life. But we could accelerate the development of what would be older age, cardiovascular disease by having lots and lots of younger people exposed to a disease that caused generalized inflammation. And we just don’t know.” The WHO official asked, “Why take the chance? Why take the risk?” He stressed the importance of protecting one’s self and said, “we want people to be altruistic and reach out to protect others, but it’s also play safe, use your brain, use your mind. Don’t take a risk that you cannot quantify.”

Ryan said the WHO focused on driving its our technical and operational assistance to countries that we would traditionally need assistance in the early days of the pandemic. He said, “If I could go back and change anything, I think we would have also been better served to be offering that operational and technical assistance to countries where I think we made some assumptions about capacities that existed in countries and skilled and workforces that maybe should have existed or should have been expanded in some of those countries. And I think, we’re all learning lessons that there’s been a deep underinvestment in the public health architecture, the capacity to do surveillance, the capacity to do contact tracing.”

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical lead at WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, highlighted nightclubs as being “amplifiers of transmission.” She said, “This is very unfortunate because we know that young people want to resume normal activities, but there are situations where the virus, if it’s present, can take hold and it can transmit efficiently. So, know what you can do and know what role that you have to play in part in this pandemic.”

WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus also announced the creation if a Technical Advisory Group on Behavioural Insights and Sciences for Health. He said, “This broadens and deepens WHO’s existing work on behavioural science and will support our work to offer health advice that is not only stronger, but more effective.”

Joining the press conference virtually, Professor Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School said, “Individual choices have extremely large aggregate effects and if there’s a single person or a single community that makes healthier choices tomorrow than it did yesterday, then the likelihood is that we’re going to see some sort of dent in the problem. And that kind of thing scales up from cities to nations and from nations to continents and of course to the world.”

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