The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that Covid-19 no longer poses a “global health emergency,” marking a significant milestone in the ongoing fight against the pandemic. This declaration comes three years after the WHO declared its highest level of alert over the virus.
While the virus’ death rate has dropped from its peak of over 100,000 people per week in January 2021 to just over 3,500 on 24 April, officials estimate that at least seven million people have died from Covid-19. However, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, warned that the actual figure was “likely” closer to 20 million deaths, nearly three times the official estimate, and that the virus remains a significant threat.
Dr Tedros made the announcement following the Emergency Committee’s recommendation to end the public health emergency of international concern, a decision that had been made after careful analysis of data. However, he emphasized that this did not mean the danger was over and warned countries against dismantling their Covid-19 systems or downplaying the threat.
Since January 2020, when the WHO first declared Covid-19 a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), the world has been grappling with the pandemic. With this declaration, individual countries will be responsible for managing the virus in the way they deem best. Vaccines have been a major turning point in the pandemic, with over 13 billion doses administered globally, protecting many people from serious illness and death. However, in many countries, vaccines have not yet reached those in need.
The US and the UK have already begun talking about “living with the virus” and have wound down many tests and social mixing rules. Still, Covid-19 continues to infect people worldwide, with over 765 million confirmed infections recorded. Dr Mike Ryan from the WHO’s health emergencies programme warns that even though the emergency may have ended, the threat is still there. History shows that pandemics often continue to transmit for years, and pandemics truly end only when the next one begins.