'Maximum alert level' for Covid-19 pandemic extended by WHO

'Maximum alert level' for Covid-19 pandemic extended by WHO
Credit: Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga

The maximum level of alert on the Covid-19 pandemic will be maintained, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced on Monday 30 January 2023 – three years to the day after declaring the disease a public health emergency of international concern.

On 30 January 2020, the WHO's Emergency Committee declared the Covid 19 outbreak a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" (USPPI) – when outside of China, fewer than 100 cases had been detected and no deaths had yet been reported.

"My message is clear: do not underestimate this virus," Tedros said this weekend during the Committee's 14th meeting on the Covid-19 virus, after making it clear that he considered the possibility of lifting the highest level of alert premature.

"It has surprised us in the past and will continue to surprise us in the future," he said. "And it will continue to take lives, unless we do more to provide health facilities to people in need and to fight against disinformation on a global scale."

The "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" alert initially failed to convince the authorities and the general public of the urgency of the situation in January 2020. On 11 March of that same year, Tedros officially started using the term "pandemic" for the global outbreak of the disease.

Now, three years later, the Committee believes that "the Covid-19 pandemic is probably at a point of transition" and Tedros said he appreciated "the advice of the Committee to navigate with caution during this transition and to mitigate potential negative consequences."

Last Friday, he already stressed that the number of weekly deaths reported in the world has been increasing since the beginning of December. "Additionally, the lifting of restrictions in China has led to an increase in the number of deaths in the most populous country in the world."

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Worldwide, out of nearly 40,000 deaths due to Covid and reported to the WHO between 16 and 22 January, "more than half were reported from China," he said, adding that the disease claimed 170,000 lives in the past two months.

According to the WHO dashboard, the disease had officially killed 6,804,491 people as of 27 January, but both WHO and experts agree that the death toll is much higher.

The WHO also counted 752,517,552 people infected – again a much lower number than the reality, especially considering the decline in people getting tested meaning new cases are far from always being recorded.

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