EXPERTS at the World Health Organization (WHO) have warned that the coronavirus pandemic will, in all likelihood, continue into 2022.
Sligo-born Dr Michael Ryan, who is executive director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, said that he believes it's "premature" and "unrealistic" to think that the crisis could end this year.
Speaking during a press briefing on Tuesday, Dr Ryan said the world's singular focus right now should be on keeping Covid-19 transmission levels as low as possible, but did note that the emergence and distribution of vaccines could see the pandemic brought under control sooner rather than later.
"If we're smart, we can finish with hospitalisations and the deaths and the tragedy associated with this pandemic by the end of the year," said Dr Ryan.
"If vaccines begin to impact not only on death and not only on hospitalisation, but have a significant impact on transmission dynamic and transmission risk, then I believe we will accelerate toward controlling this pandemic."
However, he warned against complacency, stressing that nothing was guaranteed in an ever-evolving epidemic.
Last month, Dr Ryan urged Ireland and other wealthy nations to send spare vaccines to developing countries who have little to no supply.
He argued that it wasn't right that young and healthy adults in the western world, with little to no risk of death from Covid-19, should be vaccinated before elderly or high-risk individuals in the developing world.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus echoed Dr Ryan's words, saying it was "regrettable" that such imbalance should occur.
"Countries are not in a race with each other," he said.
"This is a common race against the virus. We are not asking countries to put their own people at risk. We are asking all countries to be part of a global effort to suppress the virus everywhere."