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Worse pandemics could lie ahead so we should be prepared: WHO

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Experts say world still not ready to deal with more severe diseases

GENEVA: The coronavirus has had a devastating impact around the globe but the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Monday that worse pandemics could lie ahead, urging the world to get "serious" about preparedness.

"This is a wake-up call," WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan told reporters at a briefing marking a year since the UN agency first learned of the new virus spreading in China.

Since then, Covid-19 has killed nearly 1.8 million people around the world, out of more than 80 million infected.

"This pandemic has been very severe," Dr Ryan said.

"It has spread around the world extremely quickly and affected every corner of this planet - but this is not necessarily the big one."

He stressed that while the virus is "very transmissible and kills people... its current case fatality (rate) is reasonably low in comparison with other emerging diseases."

"We need to get ready for something that may even be more severe in the future."

WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward cautioned that while the world has made huge scientific progress to address the crisis, including developing vaccines at record speed, it remained far from prepared to ward off future pandemics.

"We are into second and third waves of this virus and we are still not prepared to deal with and manage those," he told the briefing.

"So while we are better prepared... we are not fully prepared for this one, let alone the next one."

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus meanwhile voiced hope that the Covid-19 pandemic had helped the world become more prepared to tackle future threats. "In terms of awareness, I think we are now getting it," he said.

But he stressed that it was "time now to be really serious".

"More ambition will be necessary," he said.

Dr Tedros hailed how scientists around the world worked closely to help bring the pandemic to an end.

He specifically mentioned the two new strains that have emerged in Britain and South Africa, which appear to be more infectious.

"We are working with scientists in the UK and South Africa who are carrying out epidemiologic and laboratory studies, which will guide next steps," he said. - REUTERS