Mass vaccinations, falling case counts and waning coronavirus deaths in a few wealthy countries threaten to obscure ongoing worldwide suffering from the pandemic that’s likely to last for months, and perhaps years, to come.
That’s Carl Bildt’s worry as the new special envoy to the World Health Organization-backed effort set up last year to dispatch vaccines and other weapons against Covid-19. Suppressing the virus that’s advancing in India and beyond depends on persuading rich nations to share excess doses and help close a $19 billion funding gap, Bildt said in an interview.
An independent review of the international Covid-19 response echoed Bildt’s concerns Wednesday, calling for Group of Seven countries to commit 60% of the money needed this year. The report urged high-income nations to provide more than 2 billion doses to poorer regions by the middle of 2022.
“The risk is that if people in the U.K., EU or U.S. think the worst is over, the attention will shift,” he said. “The worst isn’t over.”
No stranger to high-stakes diplomatic efforts, Bildt was co-chair of the 1995 Dayton peace talks that ended the war in Bosnia. He earlier led Sweden as prime minister when the government negotiated its entry into the EU. Now he finds himself in the middle of an urgent campaign to galvanize support for the WHO’s Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator and push leaders to contribute more to the global fight.
For a few fortunate countries, optimism is on the rise. The U.S. is preparing to vaccinate middle- and high-school students, a relatively low-risk group, before the start of summer camps and the next school year. Covid deaths could drop to as low as 1,500 per week by June 5, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecast; the weekly toll was more than 8,000 in mid-March.
England reported zero Covid deaths in a daily update earlier this week, and the U.K. government is clearing the way for people to hug and meet indoors at pubs and restaurants. Officials in Europe, including Germany’s health minister, also expressed hope for decreasing cases.