Covid no longer a global health emergency, WHO declares

·3-min read

Covid-19 no longer represents a global health emergency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared.

Friday’s announcement marks a significant step towards the end of the pandemic that has claimed more than 6.9 million lives, played havoc with the global economy, and ravaged communities.

It comes more than three years after WHO’s emergency committee announced that the threat Covid posed to global health required its highest level of alert, on 30 January 2020.

The status helps focus international attention on the virus as a threat to health, as well as bolstering collaboration on vaccines and treatments.

Lifting the alert level is a sign of the progress the world has made in these areas, but Covid is here to stay, even if it no longer represents an emergency, the WHO warned.

“Yesterday, the emergency committee met for the 15th time and recommended to me that I declare an end to the public health emergency of international concern. I’ve accepted that advice. It’s therefore with great hope that I declare Covid-19 over as a global health emergency,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The death rate has slowed from a peak of more than 100,000 people per week in January 2021 to just over 3,500 in the week to April 24, according to WHO data.

“However, that does not mean Covid-19 is over as a global health threat,” said Mr Ghebreyesus, adding that thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week.

The WHO does not declare the beginning or end of pandemics although it did start using the term for Covid in March 2020.

When the UN health agency first declared the coronavirus to be an international crisis in January 2020, it had not yet been named Covid and there were no major outbreaks beyond China.

Many countries, including the UK, have already ended Covid restrictions (Getty Images)
Many countries, including the UK, have already ended Covid restrictions (Getty Images)

More than three years later, the virus has caused an estimated 764 million cases globally and about five billion people have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

In the US, the public health emergency declaration made regarding Covid is set to expire on 11 May, when wide-ranging measures to support the pandemic response, including vaccine mandates, will end.

Many other countries, including the UK, Germany and France, dropped many of their provisions against the pandemic last year.

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

After a weeks-long visit to China, the WHO released a report in 2021 concluding that Covid most likely jumped into humans from animals, dismissing the possibility that it originated in a lab as “extremely unlikely”.

But the UN agency backtracked the following year, saying “key pieces of data” were still missing and that it was premature to rule out that Covid might have ties to a lab.

A panel commissioned by the WHO to review its performance criticised China and other countries for not moving quicker to stop the virus and said the organisation was constrained both by its limited finances and inability to compel countries to act.

With additional reporting from the Associated Press