WHO says COVID-19 no longer public health emergency

The World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 no longer qualifies as a global health emergency on Friday. 

WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee convened to discuss the pandemic on Thursday at its 15th meeting on COVID-19. It was decided the public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC, should end.

This decision reverses a declaration that was first made on January 30, 2020, when the disease had not yet been named COVID-19 and had no major breakouts beyond China’s borders. 

“For more than a year the pandemic has been on a downward trend,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference on Friday.

“This trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before Covid-19,” Tedros said. “Yesterday, the emergency committee met for the 15th time and recommended to me that I declare an end to the public health emergency of international concern. I have accepted that advice.”

This “downgrade” comes from the growing immunity among the global population — both from vaccination and infection — as well as a decreasing number of deaths, according to Tedros. This has also led to health systems no longer feeling as much of a burden as they once did.

However, COVID-19 is here to stay. The virus remains a global threat, but at a lower level of concern, according to WHO officials.

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead and head of its program on emerging disease said we “can’t let our guard down.”

“Epidemiologically, the virus will continue to cause waves. What we are hopeful of is that we have the tools in place to ensure that the future waves do not result in more severe disease, don’t result in waves of death and we can do that with the tools we have at hand. We just need to make sure that we are tracking the virus because it will continue to evolve,” she said.

In the U.S., over 1.1 million deaths have been recorded, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Seven million COVID-19 deaths have been reported to WHO, but officials believe the true toll to be at least 20 million, ABC reports

“There’s still a public health threat out there, and we all see that every day in terms of the evolution of this virus, in terms of its global presence, its continued evolution and continued vulnerabilities in our communities, both societal vulnerabilities, age vulnerabilities, protection vulnerabilities, and many other things,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program.

Tedros said the pandemic has left “deep scars” and should serve as a reminder that new viruses can have “devastating consequences.”

“But COVID-19 has been so much more than a health crisis,” Tedros said. “It has caused severe economic upheaval, erasing trillions from GDP, disrupting travel and trade, shuttering businesses and plunging millions into poverty.”

Should COVID-19 cases and deaths spike significantly, Tedros said he would convene another emergency meeting and declare a global health emergency again.

“I emphasize that this is not a snap decision. It is a decision that has been considered carefully for some time, planned for, and made on the basis of a careful analysis of the data,” he said. “If need be, I will not hesitate to convene another Emergency Committee should COVID-19 once again put our world in peril.”


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