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A Turning Point: WHO Declares End to Covid-19 Global Health Emergency

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GENEVA, Switzerland — The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday, May 5, 2023 that Covid-19 is no longer considered a global health emergency, marking a significant milestone in the fight against the pandemic.

At a news conference, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed that the public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) declaration would be lifted, based on the recommendation of WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee. The committee convened for its 15th meeting on Covid-19 on Thursday.

“For more than a year, the pandemic has been on a downward trend,” Tedros stated. “This trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before Covid-19.”

The WHO originally declared the coronavirus outbreak a PHEIC in January 2020, roughly six weeks prior to classifying it as a pandemic. A PHEIC enacts an agreement between countries to follow WHO’s recommendations for managing the emergency, with each nation declaring its own public health emergency carrying legal weight. The United States is expected to let its Covid-19 public health emergency expire on May 11.

While Covid-19 continues to pose a global health threat, albeit at a lower level of concern, WHO officials emphasized the importance of remaining vigilant. Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said, “There’s still a public health threat out there, and we all see that every day in terms of the evolution of this virus.”

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead and head of its program on emerging disease, reiterated that while the emergency phase of the crisis is over, the virus will continue to evolve and persist.

“Although 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.”

To date, there have been over 765 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and nearly 7 million deaths, according to WHO data. Cases peaked in December 2022 due to the Omicron variant, but with billions of vaccine doses administered globally, deaths have remained significantly lower than previous peaks.

Tedros assured that if necessary, he would reconvene an emergency committee meeting and declare a global health emergency again in case of a substantial rise in Covid-19 cases or deaths.

“Covid-19 has left and continues to leave deep scars on our world. Those scars must serve as a permanent reminder of the potential for new viruses to emerge with devastating consequences,” Tedros said. “We must promise ourselves and our children and grandchildren that we will never make those mistakes again.”

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