World Health Organization Declares End to COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

The World Health Organization (WHO) on May 5 declared an end to the COVID-19 global health emergency.

The public health emergency of international concern has been in place since Jan. 30, 2020.

WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus made the decision based on recommendations from WHO’s emergency committee.

Among the WHO’s recommendations is integrating COVID-19 vaccination into routine vaccinations, as the United States has done.

Officials cited how COVID-19 cases have been dropping for months and the continued uptick in the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 and/or been vaccinated.

“This trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19,” Ghebreyesus said.

According to WHO, about 17,000 people died across the world from COVID-19 in the 28 days ending on April 30, down from some 374,600 in the 28 days ending on Feb. 7, 2021.

Francois Balloux, an infectious disease expert who directs the University of Central London Genetics Institute, said he expected the WHO to wait until the summer to announce the end of the emergency.

“But all indicators were probably too good over the last two months, and getting better,” Balloux wrote on Twitter.

Didier Houssin, the chair of the emergency committee, said that along with the drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, the emerging variants have not been linked with increased severity.

A majority of the committee members endorsed ending the emergency but “two or three” were “a bit hesitant” about the recommendation, Houssin told reporters.

The end of the emergency does not mean the threat of COVID-19 has disappeared, Tedros said, noting that people are still dying from the disease.

“This virus is here to stay. It is still killing, and it is still changing. The risk remains of new variants emerging that cause new surges in cases and death,” he said. “The worst thing any country could do now is to use this news as a reason to let down its guard, to dismantle the systems it has built, or to send the message to its people that COVID-19 is nothing to worry about.”

WHO officials have consistently pushed measures such as travel bans and COVID-19 vaccination, which they have said helped deal with the pandemic. Some countries that performed well in metrics such as COVID-19 deaths, though, declined to impose some of the harshest measures. The vaccines were never proven to prevent transmission or infection and have been performing worse against newer variants.

The decision came about a week before the United States is letting its COVID-19 public health emergency declaration expire. A related declaration was ended in April when President Joe Biden signed a bill that he opposed but was approved by Congress.

While the end of the public health emergency means disbanding WHO’s emergency committee, WHO officials have decided to use an international regulation never triggered before that establishes a new committee that will focus on developing long-term recommendations for countries on how to manage COVID-19 moving forward.

WHO is already negotiating with countries on pandemic accords. The United States could end up ceding power to the United Nations agency, critics have warned. WHO and the White House have said that a pact would help the world prepare for the next pandemic.

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