The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday that COVID-19 is no longer a “global health emergency.”
The decision came after WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee discussed the pandemic on Thursday, May 4, at its 15th meeting on COVID-19.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus concurred that the public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC, declaration should end.
“For more than a year the pandemic has been on a downward trend,” Tedros said at a news conference on May 5. “This trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19. 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.”
In January 2020, the organization classified the coronavirus outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern, approximately six weeks before designating it as a pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic, also known as COVID-19, is a global health crisis that began in late 2019 and has affected virtually every country in the world. It is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which primarily spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes.
The virus is believed to have first emerged in the city of Wuhan, China, in December 2019, and quickly spread to other countries, leading the WHO to declare a global pandemic.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO Health Emergencies Programme, explained COVID-19 is still spreading and evolving, posing a continued world health threat, but the level of concern has decreased.
“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,” Ryan said.
He noted that it is expected for the virus to continue to spread, as this is the pattern seen in the history of pandemics.
The end of most pandemics is usually marked by the beginning of the next, he said, which is a grim reality based on their history. “I know that’s a terrible thought but that is the history of pandemics.”
WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead and head of its program on emerging disease, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, has stated that while the emergency phase of the COVID-19 crisis has passed, the disease is “here to stay” and the coronavirus that causes it is not leaving anytime soon.
“While we’re not in the crisis mode, we can’t let our guard down,” Van Kerkhove said.
“Epidemiologically, this 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 added.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, over 765 million instances of COVID-19 have been verified, and close to 7 million people have lost their lives as a result of the disease.
The worldwide administration of billions of vaccine doses, according to WHO, has helped keep mortality below earlier peaks, despite the fact that there was an increase in the number of cases in December 2022 due to the appearance of the Omicron variety.
Should there be a considerable increase in COVID-19 cases or deaths, Ghebreyesus has stated that the emergency committee could be reconvened, and the WHO could potentially declare a global health emergency again.