GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization said Friday that COVID-19 no longer qualifies as a global emergency, marking a symbolic end to the devastating coronavirus pandemic that triggered once-unthinkable lockdowns, upended economies worldwide and killed at least 7 million people worldwide.
WHO first declared COVID-19 to be an emergency more than three years ago. The U.N. health agency's officials said that even though the emergency phase was over, the pandemic hasn't come to an end, noting recent spikes in cases in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. WHO says that thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week.
“It’s with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“That does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat,” he said, adding he wouldn't hesitate to reconvene experts to reassess the situation should COVID-19 “put our world in peril.”
Tedros said the pandemic had been on a downward trend for more than a year, acknowledging that most countries have already returned to life before COVID-19.
He bemoaned the damage that COVID-19 had done to the global community, saying the virus had shattered businesses, exacerbated political divisions and plunged millions into poverty. Tedros also noted that there were likely at least 20 million COVID-19 deaths, far more than the officially reported 7 million.
“COVID has changed our world and it has changed us,” he said, warning that the risk of new variants still remained.
Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO's emergencies chief, said it was incumbent on heads of state and other leaders to decide on how future health threats should be faced, given the numerous problems that crippled the world's response to COVID-19. Countries are negotiating a pandemic treaty that some hope may spell out how future disease threats will be faced — but it's unlikely any such treaty would be legally binding.
When the U.N. health agency first declared the coronavirus to be an international crisis on Jan. 30, 2020, it hadn't yet been named COVID-19 and there were no major outbreaks beyond China.
More than three years later, the virus has caused an estimated 764 million cases globally and about 5 billion people have received at least one dose of vaccine.
In the U.S., the public health emergency declaration made regarding COVID-19 is set to expire on May 11, when wide-ranging measures to support the pandemic response, including vaccine mandates, will end. Many other countries, including Germany, France and Britain, dropped many of their provisions against the pandemic last year.
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