COVID-19 remains a global health emergency, says WHO – POLITICO
The verdict is in: the COVID-19 pandemic remains a global health emergency, the World Health Organization has concluded. But that may not be for very long.
The WHO decision – exactly three years after COVID-19 was first declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (USPPI) – comes after a meeting of the COVID-19 emergency committee on January 27. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus agreed with the committee’s advice that there is an ongoing risk posed by COVID-19.
The news comes as countries increasingly think about how to emerge from the acute phase of the pandemic, with the United States considering annual COVID-19 reminders, for example. However, the committee found that, globally, there are still a high number of deaths from COVID-19 compared to other infectious respiratory diseases; vaccine coverage is still insufficient in low- and middle-income countries and there is uncertainty about emerging variants.
But the reality is that the pandemic no longer poses the same threat as when it swept like wildfire across the world in 2020. The committee acknowledged this, saying the crisis “could approach a inflection point”.
As to exactly how the world will go from a USPPI to endemicity is still up for debate, with the committee acknowledging that the virus is unlikely to be cleared from human and animal reservoirs. The committee recommended that a proposal be developed for an alternative mechanism that would maintain international attention on COVID-19, even after the crisis is no longer classified as a USPPI.
For now, Tedros asked countries to continue working in several areas, including maintaining their focus on vaccinating high-priority groups, improving reporting of COVID-19 surveillance data, and increasing uptake of COVID treatments and tests.
“Today’s announcement is a recognition that the global threat posed by COVID-19 is not over,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “While the world has made remarkable progress over the past two years, implementing the largest and fastest global vaccine deployment in history, we cannot afford to be complacent.”