The global Covid-19 pandemic is officially no longer a 'Public Health Emergency of International Concern' (PHEIC), announced the expert committee of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday.
On 30 January 2020, on the advice of an Emergency Committee convened under the International Health Regulations, WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared a PHEIC over the global outbreak of Covid-19 – the highest level of alarm under international law. It was then take the WHO some more time to characterize the outbreak as a pandemic - that happened on on 11 March 2020.
"For more than a year, the pandemic has been on a downward trend, with population immunity increasing from vaccination and infection, mortality decreasing and the pressure on health systems easing," the Director-General said. "This trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before Covid-19."
On Thursday, the Emergency Committee met for the 15th time since the initial outbreak and recommended declaring an end to the PHEIC. "It is therefore with great hope that I declare Covid-19 over as a global health emergency."
'Not a snap decision'
Still, Tedros stressed that this does not mean that Covid-19 is over as a global health threat. The virus is still circulating in the world, remains highly contagious and dangerous variants may still develop at any time.
In practice, the announcement means that countries can now transition from an emergency approach to managing Covid-19 in the same way as other infectious diseases, he explained. "I emphasise that this is not a snap decision. It is a decision that has been considered carefully for some time, planned for, and made on the basis of a careful analysis of the data."
According to WHO estimates, at least 20 million people worldwide have now died from the effects of Covid-19 – almost three times more than the official figures.
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Prominent Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst tweeted that the announcement was "the first step towards the end of the pandemic." He added that whilst the virus is still widespread and new variants of Omicron are causing small waves everywhere, "the current situation only requires caution and no more drastic measures."
"We are coming to the end of this several year-long ordeal, thanks to the health professionals, the scientists, and the great efforts of so many people of goodwill," he said.
In a statement on Friday evening, European Commission Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the WHO’s announcement as good news.
She stated that the pandemic has taught us that the EU's strength lies in its unity, including when confronted with major health crises. “European solidarity, in sharing medical supplies, treating patients or helping repatriate citizens, and in the reconstruction of our economies, helped us to protect our citizens together and overcome the most difficult phases of the pandemic.”
Nevertheless, vigilance remains crucial. “Although the pandemic has passed, it is clear that COVID-19 remains a global health threat and that it will be still part of our life for the foreseeable future.”