WHO declares end to COVID global health emergency

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

The Director-General of the World Health Organization on Friday announced he was ending the emergency he declared for COVID-19 more than three years ago, marking a major milestone in the pandemic that has killed more than 6.9 million people, disrupted the global economy and ravaged communities.

Ghebreyesus: "COVID has changed our world."

The move comes a day after the WHO Emergency Committee recommended the UN-agency declare an end to the coronavirus crisis.

But the WHO chief warned that the end of the emergency did not mean COVID was over as a global health threat.

"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 a message to its people that COVID-19 is nothing to worry about. [FLASH] 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's declaration comes just four months after China ended its prolonged and severe COVID restrictions, after a surge in infections.

In many parts of the world, testing has dwindled dramatically, and people have largely stopped wearing masks.

Ending the emergency could mean that international collaboration or funding efforts are also brought to an end or shift in focus, although many have already adapted as the pandemic has receded in different regions.

Last year, U.S. President Joe Biden said the pandemic was over.

Like a number of other countries, the U.S. has begun dismantling its domestic state of emergency for COVID, meaning it will stop paying for vaccines and testing for many people and shift responsibility to the commercial market.

Later on Friday, Biden said in a statement that top U.S. public health official Rochelle Walensky will step down at the end of June from her role as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In her resignation letter, Walensky - who led the institution for two years at a time when the pandemic was at its peak - wrote: "The end of the COVID-19 public health emergency marks a tremendous transition for our country, for public health, and in my tenure as CDC Director."