World Health Organization (WHO) officials have said COVID is no longer a global health emergency, marking a symbolic end to the pandemic.
“It’s with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “That does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat.”
“COVID-19 has changed our world and it has changed us,” he said, warning that the risk of new variants still remained.
The pandemic had been on a downward trend for more than a year, he said, acknowledging that most countries have already returned to life before COVID
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Mr Adhanom Ghebreyesus also highlighted the damage that COVID had done to the global community, saying the virus had shattered businesses and plunged millions into poverty.
WHO made its decision to lower its highest level of alert after convening an expert group on Thursday. The UN agency doesn’t “declare” pandemics, but first used the term to describe the outbreak in March 2020, long after many other scientists had said a pandemic was already under way.
In May last year, WHO experts said the end of the pandemic was “in sight”, publishing policy briefs for governments to follow on infection control, testing, vaccination and misinformation.
Last month the NHS COVID app was switched off and will be discontinued completely on 16 May.
COVID may no longer be a global health emergency, but virus hasn’t disappeared
The declaration that COVID is no longer a global health emergency is an historic moment.
It can be seen as an official declaration of the end of a pandemic that in three years killed nearly seven million people globally and made billions sick.
In itself, it is a bureaucratic step. When the WHO declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) it requires countries to formally report statistics, take steps to protect citizens and travellers, and conduct surveillance for the virus.
For many countries, such as the UK, the decision will make little difference to what we were doing anyway.
But in places with poorly resourced healthcare systems, it could free up capacity to deal with the other major disease threats including tuberculosis, HIV and malaria which have continued throughout the pandemic – 650,000 people alone died with HIV in 2021.
The same month the Office for National Statistics said that COVID was no longer a top leading cause of death in England and Wales.
Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “
“The World Health Organisation’s move to end COVID-19 as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is thanks to effective vaccinations and treatments which have greatly reduced the risk of severe disease and death from infection around the world.
“Thanks to these health interventions, we have already transitioned to living with Covid-19 in England, but we continue to monitor the virus through our range of surveillance systems and genomics capabilities and stand prepared to respond if the risk increases in the future.”
COVID was declared a pandemic on 11 March 2020, triggering lockdowns and travel restrictions across the world.
There have been more than six million COVID-related deaths worldwide since then.
The virus has caused an estimated 764 million cases globally and about five billion people have received at least one dose of vaccine.