WHO Declares End to COVID Global Health Emergency

May 5, 2023 by Dan McCue
WHO Declares End to COVID Global Health Emergency
Globe inside the World Bank building in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Dan McCue)

GENEVA — The World Health Organization ended the COVID-19 global health emergency on Friday, deeming the coronavirus an “established and ongoing health issue” that is essentially here to stay.

The “COVID-19 Public Health Emergency of International Concern” has been in effect since Jan. 30, 2020. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the WHO estimates that at least 20 million people around the world have died from the disease.

But on Friday morning, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference that he is accepting the recommendation from an advisory panel of independent experts that concluded it’s time for countries to transition away from emergency mode when dealing with the virus.

During a meeting of that panel, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, on Thursday, members noted the decreasing trend in COVID-19 deaths, the decline in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions, and the high levels of population immunity to SARS-CoV-2. 

The committee’s position has been evolving over the last several months. While acknowledging the remaining uncertainties posted by potential evolution of SARS-CoV-2, they advised that it is time to transition to long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” Ghebreyesus said.

He will now convene a separate advisory panel to draft recommendations for the long-term management of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, taking into account the 2023-2025 COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. 

During this transition, state health care agencies are advised to continue following the issued temporary recommendations previously announced by the WHO.

While not legally binding, the temporary recommendations include:

  1. Strengthen SARS-CoV-2 surveillance in humans to maintain (or, where needed, enhance) capacity to detect and assess emerging variants and significant changes to COVID-19 epidemiology.
  2. Strengthen (or where needed, implement) surveillance to monitor presence and evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in animal populations. 
  3. Achieve national COVID-19 vaccination targets in accordance with the updated WHO Global COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy, and the WHO SAGE Prioritization Roadmap, which both emphasize fully protecting those in high-priority groups. 
  4. Support timely uptake of accurate therapeutics and timely SARS-CoV-2 testing. 
  5. Maintain the strong national response to the COVID-19 pandemic by updating national preparedness and response plans in line with the priorities and potential scenarios outlined in the 2022 WHO Strategic Preparedness, Readiness and Response Plan and the recently published WHO COVID-19 policy briefs.
  6. Address the infodemic, risk communications and community engagement challenges, and the divergent perceptions in risk among scientific communities, political leaders and the general public.
  7. Continue to adapt the use of appropriate effective, individual-level protective measures to reduce transmission.
  8. Maintain essential health, social, and education services, in particular access to essential immunization services.
  9. Continue to adjust any remaining international travel-related measures, based on risk assessments, and to not require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a prerequisite for international travel.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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