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Globally, more than 7.8 million cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO, and more than 430,000 deaths.
It took more than 2 months for the first 100,000 cases to be reported. For the past two weeks, more than 100,000 new cases have been reported almost every single day.
Almost 75% of recent cases come from 10 countries, mostly in the Americas and South Asia.
However, we also see increasing numbers of cases in Africa, eastern Europe, central Asia and the Middle East.
Even in countries that have demonstrated the ability to suppress transmission, countries must stay alert to the possibility of resurgence.
Last week, China reported a new cluster of cases in Beijing, after more than 50 days without a case in that city. More than 100 cases have now been confirmed.
The origin and extent of the outbreak are being investigated.
Despite the ongoing global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot lose sight of other significant public health issues, including influenza.
Influenza affects every country every year, and takes its own deadly toll.
As we enter the southern hemisphere influenza season and begin planning for the northern hemisphere season, we must ensure that influenza remains a top priority.
Co-circulation of COVID-19 and influenza can worsen the impact on health care systems that are already overwhelmed.
More than 500 million people are vaccinated against flu every year, based on recommendations from WHO on the composition of flu vaccines.
These recommendations are based on data and virus samples collected and analyzed by WHO’s Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, or GISRS.
The GISRS system has been functioning since 1952 and I would like to thank the more than 125 countries that participate in it.
Over the past 8 years, significant strengthening of the system has been made possible through the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework, and I would also like to thank the public and private sector partners that participate in this global system.
The infrastructure, people, skills and experience built up through GISRS, WHO Collaborating Centres, and national influenza centres have been the foundation for detecting COVID-19.
However, this well-established system is now seeing significant challenges.
Influenza surveillance has either been suspended or is declining in many countries, and there has been a sharp decline in sharing of influenza information and viruses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Compared with the last three years, we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in the number of specimens tested for influenza globally.
We’ve also seen a 62% decrease in the number of virus shipments to WHO Collaborating Centres, and a 94% decrease in the number of influenza viruses with genetic sequence data uploaded to the GISAID database.
These decreases are due to a combination of issues, including the repurposing of staff and supplies, overburdened laboratories, and transport restrictions.
These disruptions may have short- and long-term effects, such as the loss of capacities to detect and report new influenza viruses with pandemic potential.
As many of you know, twice a year WHO convenes a group of experts who together analyze the circulating flu strains. Based on their analysis they select the viruses that should be targeted by flu vaccines for the upcoming season in each hemisphere.
To know which viruses are circulating, WHO relies on information from countries reported through GISRS, which we use to make recommendations for the composition of influenza vaccines.
This will help us to prevent more severe cases of flu and more deaths.
WHO has published guidance on how to integrate surveillance for COVID-19 into routine influenza surveillance as an efficient way to track both of these important respiratory viruses.
This is not only cost-effective, it’s also essential for protecting the world against the next flu season.
The Southern Hemisphere flu season is already underway. There is no time to lose.