WHO declares end to Covid global health emergency
The Covid-19 Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) has been in effect since 30 January 2020. Since the start of the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 20 million people around the world have died from the new disease.
On 4 May 2023, the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus concurs with the advice offered by the Committee regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He determines that COVID-19 is now an established and ongoing health issue which no longer constitutes a PHEIC. “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 have accepted that advice,” Tedros said during a press conference on the World Health Organization’s 75th anniversary in Geneva, on April 6, 2023. He warned, though, that the threat the virus causes remains.
WHO warns threat is NOT over
However, the WHO does not declare the start of a pandemic and it will not declare an end to it either. Tedros and other WHO officials emphasized that while they were ending the PHEIC, the pandemic is not over. “It is, therefore, with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” Tedros said. “However, some countries are seeing increases and over the past four weeks, 14,000 people lost their lives to this disease,” he added. “An estimated 1 in 10 infections results in post-COVID-19 condition, suggesting that hundreds of millions of people will need longer-term care. And, as the emergence of the new XBB.1.16 variant illustrates, the virus is still changing, and is still capable of causing new waves of disease and death.”
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid Technical Lead said, “However, that does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat. Last week, COVID-19 claimed a life every three minutes – and that’s just the deaths we know about.” “The emergency phase … is over, but Covid is here to stay.”
The Chair of the Emergency Committee, Professor Didier Houssin said the decision to recommend an end to the PHEIC was in part due to the belief that the tool was not adapted to disease events that are sub-acute or chronic. Houssin acknowledged that the decision of the emergency committee was not unanimous, with two or three members expressing hesitancy about ending the PHEIC at this time.
- World Health Organization. COVID-19 Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) Global research and innovation forum.https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/covid-19-public-health-emergency-of-international-concern-(pheic)-global-research-and-innovation-forum
- World Health Organization. Statement on the fifteenth meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.https://www.who.int/news/item/05-05-2023-statement-on-the-fifteenth-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-%282005%29-emergency-committee-regarding-the-coronavirus-disease-%28covid-19%29-pandemic
- Kupferschmidt, K. & Wadman, M. ‘It’s still killing and it’s still changing.’ Ending COVID-19 states of emergency sparks debate. Science (2023) doi:10.1126/science.adi5890.
- Lenharo, M. WHO declares end to COVID-19’s emergency phase. Nature (2023) doi:10.1038/d41586-023-01559-z.