Infectious Disease

WHO says COVID-19 no longer a global public health emergency

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Tedros reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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Key takeaways:

  • WHO ended the COVID-19 global public health emergency that was declared on Jan. 30, 2020.
  • On May 11, the US will end its own national and public health emergency declarations for COVID-19.

WHO said Friday that the COVID-19 pandemic no longer constitutes a global public health emergency of international concern, citing reduced risks to human health driven by high population-level immunity and vaccination.

The United States has also announced that it will end its COVID-19-related emergencies on May 11, which will have broad implications for the country’s response.

IDN0523COVIDPHEIC_Graphic_01_WEB

Data derived from WHO.

WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee met for the 15th time during the pandemic and ultimately decided to recommend an end to the global public health emergency, noting declines in deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 and increasing population immunity to SARS-CoV-2, WHO said.

WHO declared the emergency in January 2020, more than a month before it began classifying it as a pandemic. At the time, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said the primary reason for declaring the emergency was “the potential of the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, ill prepared to deal with it.”

Ending the emergency does not mean that COVID-19 is over, Tedros said Friday.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

“Last week, COVID-19 claimed a life every 3 minutes — and that’s just the deaths we know about. As we speak, thousands of people around the world are fighting for their lives in intensive care units,” he said. “This virus is here to stay. It is still killing, and it’s still changing. The risk remains of new variants emerging that cause new surges in cases and deaths.”

He said the “worst thing any country could do now is to use this news as a reason to let down its guard, to dismantle the systems it has built, or to send the message to its people that COVID-19 is nothing to worry about .”

“What this news means is that it is time for countries to transition from emergency mode to managing COVID-19 alongside other infectious diseases,” 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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Amesh A. Adalia, MD)

Amesh A. Adalja, MD

This is not a surprising decision by the WHO as COVID-19 has become increasingly more manageable with the tools science and medicine have developed, coupled to the rising levels of immunity in the population. The impetus for the public health emergency was the threat to the stability of health care systems due to COVID — this situation no longer exists so the conditions for the [emergency declaration] are no longer present.

Amesh A. Adalja, MD

Senior scholar

Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

Disclosures: Adalja reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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Lawrence O. Gostin, JD)

Lawrence O Gostin, JD

I applaud WHO for ending the global COVID emergency. All emergencies must come to an end. This does not mean COVID is over. COVID-19 will continue to cause hospitalizations and deaths, especially for the vulnerable. But we need to respond through resilient health systems like any major threat like AIDS and tuberculosis. The ending of the global emergency is a moment of profound reflection on lessons learned. Next time we must be better prepared, and also ensure equity. I’d like to see a 9/11-type commission on the COVID-19 response.

Lawrence O Gostin, JD

Director, O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law

Georgetown University

Disclosures: Gostin reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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