WHO Declares End to Covid-19 Global Health Emergency, But Virus Remains a Threat

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared an end to the global health emergency of international concern for Covid-19, marking a major step towards the end of the pandemic that has claimed over 6.9 million lives worldwide and wreaked havoc on global economies and communities. 

The WHO Emergency Committee recommended lifting the emergency status, which had been in place for over three years, after its meeting on Thursday. The move is a reflection of the progress made in vaccines and treatments, but the WHO emphasised that the virus remains a global health threat. 

In making the announcement, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “It is therefore with great hope that I declare Covid-19 over as a global health emergency,” but he also cautioned that “Covid has changed the world, and it has changed us. And that’s the way it should be. If we go back to how things were before Covid-19, we will have failed to learn our lessons, and failed our future generations.” 

The WHO had declared Covid-19 a global health emergency more than three years ago, on 30 January 2020, which helped to focus international attention on the threat and increase collaboration on vaccine and treatment development. 

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Although the end of the emergency status may signal the end of international collaboration or funding efforts, it does not mean an end to the virus. Covid-19 is here to stay, the WHO has said. 

According to WHO data, the death rate has decreased from a peak of over 100,000 people per week in January 2021 to just over 3,500 in the week ending 24 April 2023. The WHO does not declare the beginning or end of pandemics, but it started using the term for Covid-19 in March 2020. 

Countries such as the United States have already begun to dismantle their domestic states of emergency for Covid-19, meaning they will stop paying for vaccines and other benefits. The European Union said last April that the emergency phase of the pandemic was over, while the WHO’s African head, Matshidiso Moeti, said in December that it was time to move to routine management of Covid-19 across the continent. 

The end of the emergency status may lead to a shift in focus for international collaboration or funding efforts, but many have already adapted as the pandemic has receded in different regions. As the world continues to navigate through the pandemic, the WHO’s declaration reminds us that the fight against Covid-19 is far from over. 

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