Covid no longer a global health emergency as WHO downgrades pandemic

The WHO cautioned that the Covid-19 is still a global health threat despite the emergency phase being over

Covid-19 is no longer a global health emergency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

The downgraded states marks a symbolic end to the devastating pandemic that triggered major lockdowns, upended economies and killed at least seven million people worldwide.

But while the emergency phase is now over, health officials cautioned that the pandemic has not come to an end, noting recent spikes in cases in south-east Asia and the Middle East.

The UN health agency added that thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week and it remains a “global health threat”.

The WHO cautioned that the Covid-19 is still a global health threat (Photo: Getty Images)The WHO cautioned that the Covid-19 is still a global health threat (Photo: Getty Images)
The WHO cautioned that the Covid-19 is still a global health threat (Photo: Getty Images)

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “It’s with great hope that I declare Covid-19 over as a global health emergency. That does not mean Covid-19 is over as a global health threat.”

Coronavirus was first declared to be an international crisis by the health agency on 30 January 2020, but it had not yet been named Covid-19 and there were no major outbreaks beyond China at that point.

But more than three years later, the virus has caused an estimated 764 million cases globally and around five billion people have now received at least one dose of vaccine.

The public health emergency declaration regarding Covid-19 is set to expire in the US on 11 May. It means that wide-ranging measures ushered in to support the pandemic response, including vaccine mandates, will come to an end. Several countries, including the UK, Germany and France, have already dropped many such provisions, with most pandemic rules ending last year.

On declaring Covid-19 an emergency in 2020, Dr Tedros said his greatest fear was that the virus had potential to spread in countries with weak health systems which he described as “ill-prepared”.

But in reality, some of the countries previously deemed to be the best prepared for the pandemic, including the UK and the US, actually suffered the worst Covid-19 death tolls. WHO data shows the number of deaths reported in Africa account for just 3% of the global total.

The WHO made its decision to lower its highest level of alert on Friday (5 May), after convening an expert group on Thursday.

The UN agency does not “declare” pandemics, but it first used the term to describe the outbreak in March 2020, when the virus had spread to every continent except Antarctica, long after many other scientists had said a pandemic was already under way.

The WHO is the only agency mandated to coordinate the world’s response to acute health threats, but the organisation faced criticism for faltering repeatedly as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded.

In January 2020, the WHO publicly applauded China for its supposed speedy and transparent response, despite recordings of private meetings obtained by The Associated Press showing top officials were frustrated at the country’s lack of cooperation.

The WHO also advised against members of the public wearing masks to protect against Covid-19 for months - a mistake which many health officials say cost lives.

It also came under fire from scientists over its reluctance to acknowledge that Covid-19 was frequently spread in the air and by people without symptoms, with the agency slammed for its lack of strong guidance to prevent such exposure.