The global Covid-19 pandemic is on track to claim more lives by mid-June this year than all of 2020, said the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The number of infections reported to the WHO in the first five months of 2021 have already eclipsed the total number registered in the first year of the pandemic.

“We are pleased that for three consecutive weeks we have seen a downturn in the number of cases and deaths being reported,” Tedros said at the opening of the World Health Assembly, where delegates are debating the global response to the pandemic.

“But globally, we remain in a fragile situation. No country should assume it is out of the woods, no matter its vaccination rate.”

He said that although the currently available Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics were effective against the new coronavirus variants detected by scientists, it would not necessarily remain the case.

“This virus is changing constantly. Future changes could render our tools ineffective and drag us back to square one. We must be very clear: the pandemic is not over, and it will not be over until and unless transmission is controlled in every last country.”

He said unequal access to vaccines threatened to prolong the pandemic, adding that 75% of doses administered so far have been in just 10 countries.

“I understand that every government has a duty to protect its own people. I understand that every government wants to vaccinate its entire population.

“But right now, there is not enough supply. Countries that vaccinate children and other low-risk groups now do so at the expense of health workers and high-risk groups in other countries. That’s the reality.”

He encouraged governments to step up their contributions to the WHO’s Covax jab distribution system and to aim to vaccinate at least 10% of every population by September and 30% by December.

“Sprinting to our September goal means we must vaccinate 250 million more people in low- and middle-income countries in just four months, including all health workers and the most at-risk groups as the first priority.”

A total of 72 million jabs have been distributed to 125 countries via Covax so far, he added.