Covid-19 global health emergency is over, says World Health Organisation

WHO signals pandemic will end in 2023 but says coronavirus still poses a threat

'It’s with great hope that I declare Covid-19 over as a global health emergency,' WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. Reuters
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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the global health emergency Covid-19 “over” on Friday.

The announcement comes after the pandemic killed nearly seven million people, devastated economies and triggered nationwide lockdowns.

“It’s with great hope that I declare Covid-19 over as a global health emergency,” Dr Tedros said.

"Yesterday, the emergency committee met for the 15th time and recommended to me that I declare an end to the public health emergency of international concern. I have accepted that advice."

But he added: "That does not mean Covid-19 is over as a global health threat."

Dr Tedros said he would not hesitate to reconvene experts to reassess the situation should Covid-19 once again “put our world in peril".

The health agency’s officials said that even though the emergency phase was over, the pandemic has not yet come to an end, noting recent spikes in cases in South-East Asia and the Middle East.

The announcement is largely symbolic, as most countries around the world have already ended their Covid restrictions as well as their states of emergency.

The US is due to end its national state of emergency on May 11.

First detected in Wuhan, China, the WHO declared Covid-19 an international crisis on January 30, 2020.

On March 11, 2020, the WHO designated Covid-19 as a global pandemic.

The virus quickly spread worldwide, infecting about 764 million people, though that number is likely to be a vast undercount.

In response to the spread of the disease, countries around the world imposed strict lockdowns, mandating the use of face masks and social distancing.

International air travel was restricted or suspended in some places, and frequent testing for the virus became routine, even for family gatherings.

Businesses were shuttered and office workers were asked to work from home.

The lockdowns had a deep impact on already struggling economies and pushed millions of people deeper into poverty.

Though the original strain was highly virulent, as the disease began to mutate, it became even more so.

The Delta variant, for example, was estimated to be about twice as easily spread as the original form of coronavirus.

The Arcturus variant, which recently caused a surge in cases in countries including India, was also much more highly transmissible.

The decision to downgrade the status of the disease, however, comes amid high levels of immunity to Covid due to vaccination, infection or both.

Vaccines began to be released in December 2020, less than a year after the virus was detected, in a major win for science.

But wealthier nations were quickly accused of hoarding vaccines.

While wealthy countries were doling out their second and third vaccine doses, people in poorer nations had yet to receive their first.

Still, some of the wealthiest of countries, including the US, were the ones that suffered the most deaths.

More than one million people died from Covid in the US, more than anywhere else in the world, followed by Japan and Germany, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Updated: May 06, 2023, 5:39 AM