-- The global anti-pandemic fight in 2021 was full of twists and turns, but there is still hope ahead as long as the world strengthen solidarity and cooperation.
-- The emergence of Omicron, an early lifting of lockdowns and low vaccination rates have made Europe the epicenter of this new wave of COVID-19, and the situation in Africa is also worrying.
-- The pandemic has also exposed the flawed global public health system, in which wealthy nations have failed to keep their vaccine promises.
-- Apart from a record-breaking sprint to develop COVID-19 vaccines, the WHO and regulators worldwide have also been approving the vaccines at top speed.
BEIJING, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- The global anti-pandemic fight in 2021 was full of twists and turns: a string of new and cunning variants, a yawning immunization gap between high- and low-income nations, and a distractive politicization of origin-tracing have crippled the speedy development of COVID-19 vaccines and the global promotion of inoculation.
But there is still hope ahead as long as countries around the world strengthen solidarity and cooperation, adopt science-based COVID-19 policies, and abandon a zero-sum mentality and political bias.
People enjoy their leisure time in Lille, northern France, May 19, 2021. (Photo by Sebastien Courdji/Xinhua)
Global COVID-19 cases and deaths have surpassed 270 million and 5.3 million by Tuesday, up by about 190 million and 3.5 million respectively from the beginning of the year.
The World Health Organization (WHO)'s COVID-19 dashboard suggested that the number of weekly new cases around the globe bounced back to 5.7 million in early May from 2.4 million in late February, and fell to 2.5 million in mid-June. It then rebounded to 4.5 million in late August, dropped in mid-October to 2.7 million, and is now moving higher again.
The United States, ranking first over a long period in both caseload and death toll in the global COVID-19 chart, has already reported more than 50 million infections and 800,000 deaths. The country, with the most advanced medical equipment and technologies, has failed the pandemic's "stress test" and is now suffering another tough winter.
The emergence of Omicron, an early lifting of lockdowns and low vaccination rates have made Europe the epicenter of this new wave of COVID-19. The situation in Africa is also worrying: Data from the WHO showed that the continent had registered over 256,000 cases for the week ending Dec. 19, up 53 percent from the previous week.
Travelers wait to receive COVID-19 tests at Cape Town International Airport in Cape Town, South Africa, Nov. 29, 2021. (Str/Xinhua)
"COVID-19 has exposed a broken world that is inequitable, unaccountable, and divided," the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, a joint arm of the WHO and the World Bank, said in an October report, citing growing nationalism, geopolitical tensions and deep inequalities as root causes.
Perhaps the first lesson drawn from this capricious situation is that it is still too early to turn the pandemic into an endemic disease, and that consistent anti-epidemic measures are urgently needed to avoid a dangerous "pandemic fatigue" of the prolonged public health crisis.
Some Western countries, like the United States, have already embraced a potential coexistence with COVID-19. Also in the United States, the anti-pandemic fight has been politicized, causing delays or abandonment of anti-pandemic measures. The results were more infections, and the following popping up of highly transmissible variants like Delta and Omicron.
The pandemic has also exposed the flawed global public health system, in which wealthy nations have not only failed to keep their vaccine promises, but also been starving the developing world of vaccines through vaccine nationalism. Among others, the United States delivered only 25 percent of the vaccines that it had promised by Nov. 25.
A staff member arranges labelled COVID-19 vaccines before packing them on the vaccine production line of a VACSERA factory in Giza, Egypt, Sept. 6, 2021. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)
"Vaccine equity is the greatest immediate moral test of our times. It is also a practical necessity," United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted in July.
According to University of Oxford-based Our World in Data, as of Tuesday, 56.9 percent of the world population has received at least one does of a COVID-19 vaccine and 8.78 billion doses have been administered globally. However, only 8.1 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.
Besides, it should also be recognized by all that COVID-19 origin-tracing is a serious and complex scientific issue requiring the joint efforts of global experts. For quite some time, the United States has attempted to politicize the issue and scapegoat China for its own pandemic fiasco. Its intelligence community's so-called origin-tracing report, for instance, has stoked divisions and undermined global anti-pandemic cooperation.
An airport worker transports packages of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines at Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Oct. 14, 2021. (Photo by Phearum/Xinhua)
Fortunately, the year 2021 was not all doom and gloom. Apart from a record-breaking sprint to develop COVID-19 vaccines, the WHO and regulators worldwide have also been approving the vaccines at top speed. So far, the WHO has issued emergency use listing for several COVID-19 vaccines, including those from China's Sinopharm and Sinovac.
Multilateral programs such as COVAX are also playing their due role in promoting global vaccine equity. Official data showed that COVAX has so far shipped over 792 million COVID-19 vaccines to 144 participants. China, as a responsible major country, has supplied over 70 million doses of vaccines and donated 100 million U.S. dollars to this global initiative.
Adding to the achievements is the good news of new drugs against COVID-19. The first oral antiviral pill molnupiravir to treat COVID-19 was approved by British medicines regulators in early November. The European Medicines Agency issued advice on the emergency use of Pfizer's COVID-19 pill Paxlovid in mid-December. A key Chinese medicine against COVID-19 has been approved for sale.
In an interconnected world, no one can win any global crisis alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has once again demonstrated the importance of pushing forward stronger cooperation and unity.
Medical staff members work in a COVID-19 ward at a hospital in Bologna, Italy, Dec. 3, 2021. (Photo by Gianni Schicchi/Xinhua)
As a pioneer along this path, China has not hesitated to lend a helping hand to others. It has delivered on its promise to make vaccines a global public good, having provided nearly 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 120 countries and international organizations. In fact, it has offered more doses than any other country in the world.
China has also launched the Initiative for Belt and Road Partnership on COVID-19 Vaccines Cooperation together with over 30 countries, and conducted joint vaccine production with 19 developing countries.
Indeed, just as the WHO tweeted Saturday, "to end the COVID-19 pandemic, the world must act together as a team to ensure equitable access to vaccines, treatment & diagnostics."
(Xinhua reporters Shang Xuqian in New York, Tan Jingjing in Washington, Du Baiyu and Zhou Siyu in Seoul, and Liu Qu in Geneva have also contributed to the story.)
(Video editors: Jia Xiaotong, Mu Xuyao)■