According to the WHO, Covid remains a global emergency, but the pandemic could near its end in 2023
The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, attends an ACANU briefing on global health issues including COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine on December 14, 2022 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Denis Balibouse | Reuters
The World Health Organization said Monday Covid-19 remains a global health emergency as the world enters the fourth year of the pandemic.
But WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was confident the world would emerge from the emergency phase of the pandemic this year.
“We remain hopeful that in the coming year the world will move into a new phase where we reduce hospital admissions and deaths to the lowest possible levels and where health systems are able to manage Covid-19 in an integrated and sustainable way,” said Tedros said in a statement.
The WHO Emergency Committee met on Friday and told Tedros that the virus, which was originally detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, remains a public health emergency of international concern, the UN agency’s highest alert level. The WHO first declared an emergency in January 2020.
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The WHO decision comes after the US extended its public health emergency until April earlier this month.
In its statement on Monday, Tedros said the world is in a far better place than it was a year ago when the Omicron variant first swept the globe. The WHO has estimated that at least 90% of the world’s population has some level of immunity to Covid as a result of vaccination or infection.
Weekly Covid deaths have fallen by 70% since the peak of the first massive Omicron wave in February last year, according to WHO data. But deaths picked up again in December as China, the world’s most populous country, faced its biggest wave of infections yet.
Tedros said on Friday surveillance and genetic sequencing have fallen dramatically, making it difficult to track Covid variants and detect new ones. Too few older people are fully vaccinated and many people don’t have access to antivirals, he said.
“Don’t underestimate this virus,” Tedros told reporters at a news conference in Geneva on Friday. “It surprised us and will continue to do so, and it will continue to kill if we don’t do more to provide health tools to people who need them and to comprehensively combat misinformation.”
Last month, the WHO chief said the end of the emergency phase of the pandemic was closer than ever. In the fall, Tedros said the end of the pandemic was in sight.
“We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We’re not there yet, but the end is in sight,” Tedros told reporters in Geneva last September.