World Health Organization downgrades COVID, says no longer an emergency
The World Health Organization on Friday declared COVID-19 over as a global health emergency, marking a historic end to a devastating chapter in the pandemic that claimed more than 7 million lives worldwide.
The WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern on Jan. 30, 2020, when just 100 cases were reported and the virus had no official name, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a news conference on Friday.
More than three years later, the pandemic is on a downward trend.
“This trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19,” Tedros said. “It is with great hope that I declare COVID-19 a global public health emergency.”
“It doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is over as a global health threat,” he said, adding that the virus continued to claim a life every three seconds for the past week. “This virus is here to stay. It’s still killing and it’s still changing.”
The virus has caused an estimated 764 million cases worldwide and about 5 billion people have received at least one dose of vaccine. The director said he would not hesitate to reconvene experts to reassess the situation should COVID-19 “put our world at risk”.
Last month, President Joe Biden signed legislation officially ending the national coronavirus emergency in the United States on May 11. A list of far-reaching measures to support a pandemic response is expected to change next week, including immunization mandates, certain monitoring and reporting, and federal and state health insurance programs, among others
Latest:How the US reports COVID data is set to change soon. Here’s what you need to know.
The COVID emergency ends:What it means for tests, vaccines, treatment
Other countries including Germany, France and the UK dropped many of their anti-pandemic regulations over the past year.
The WHO made its decision to lower its highest alert level after convening an expert panel on Thursday. The organization is the only agency charged with coordinating the world’s response to acute health threats, but it repeatedly faltered as the coronavirus unfolded.
In January 2020, the WHO publicly applauded China for its allegedly quick and transparent response, although recordings of private meetings obtained by The Associated Press showed senior officials were frustrated by the country’s lack of cooperation. The WHO also recommended against members of the public wearing masks for months to protect themselves from COVID-19, a mistake many health officials say has claimed lives.
Numerous scientists also criticized the WHO’s reluctance to acknowledge that COVID-19 was often airborne and spread by people without symptoms, and criticized the agency’s lack of strict guidance to prevent such exposure.
Recently, the WHO has struggled to probe the origins of the coronavirus, a challenging scientific endeavor that is also politically strained.
Biden signed legislation in March mandating the release of information related to the origin of COVID-19 and said his administration will release “as much of that information as it can” and, consistent with his constitutional authority, not share information to disclose that would adversely affect national security.
In 2021, after a visit to China, the WHO released a report concluding that COVID-19 most likely jumped from animals to humans, dismissing as “extremely unlikely” the possibility that it originated in a laboratory . But the agency backtracked the following year, saying “key data” was still missing and it was too early to rule out that COVID-19 could have been linked to a lab leak.
Contribution: The Associated Press
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
USA TODAY’s health and patient safety reporting is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation makes no editorial contribution.