World Health Organization says COVID-19 is no longer a global emergency

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MAY 5, 2023

World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on May 8, 2021. – Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 over as a global health emergency Friday, marking a historic end to a devastating chapter of the pandemic that claimed more than 7 million lives worldwide.

WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern on Jan. 30, 2020, when only 100 cases were reported and the virus had no official name, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a news conference Friday.

More than three years later, the pandemic is on a downward trend.

“This trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19,” Tedros said. “It’s with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency.”

“That does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat,” he said, adding the virus continued to claim a life every three seconds last week. “This virus is here to stay. It’s still killing and it’s still changing.”

The virus has caused an estimated 764 million cases globally, and about 5 billion people have received at least one dose of vaccine. The director said he wouldn’t hesitate to reconvene experts to reassess the situation should COVID-19 “put our world in peril.”

Last month, President Joe Biden signed legislation officially ending the national coronavirus emergency in the United States on May 11. A list of wide-ranging measures to support pandemic response is expected to change next week, including vaccine mandates, certain surveillance and reporting, and federal and state programs for health insurance, among others.

Other countries, including Germany, France and Britain, dropped many of their provisions against the pandemic last year.

WHO made its decision to lower its highest level of alert after convening an expert group Thursday. The organization is the only agency mandated to coordinate the world’s response to acute health threats, but it faltered repeatedly as the coronavirus unfolded.

In January 2020, WHO publicly applauded China for its supposed speedy and transparent response, even though recordings of private meetings obtained by The Associated Press showed top officials were frustrated at the country’s lack of cooperation. WHO also recommended against members of the public wearing masks to protect against COVID-19 for months, a mistake many health officials say cost lives.

Numerous scientists also slammed WHO’s reluctance to acknowledge that COVID-19 was frequently spread in the air and by people without symptoms, criticizing the agency’s lack of strong guidance to prevent such exposure.

Most recently, WHO has been struggling to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, a challenging scientific endeavor that has also become politically fraught.

Biden signed legislation in March ordering the declassification of information related to the origins of COVID-19, saying his administration will declassify and share “as much of that information as possible,” consistent with his constitutional authority not to disclose information that would harm national security.

After a visit to China, WHO released a report in 2021 concluding that COVID-19 most likely jumped into humans from animals, dismissing the possibility that it originated in a lab as “extremely unlikely.” But the agency backtracked the following year, saying “key pieces of data” were still missing and it was still too soon to rule out that COVID-19 might have been linked to a lab leak.


Courtesy/Source: This article originally appeared on USA TODAY