WHO says Covid remains global emergency but pandemic could end in 2023

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends an ACANU briefing on global health issues including the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine in Geneva, Switzerland on December 14, 2022.

Denis Balibuz | Reuters

The World Health Organization on Monday said Covid-19 remains a global health emergency as the world enters its fourth year of the pandemic.

But WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed hope that the world would emerge from the emergency phase of the pandemic this year.

“We remain hopeful that in the coming year the world will enter a new phase in which we will reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths to the lowest possible levels, and health systems will be able to cope with Covid-19 in a comprehensive and sustainable way,” Tedros. says in the statement.

The WHO Emergency Committee met on Friday and told Tedros that the virus, which was originally detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, remains a public health emergency of international concern, the UN agency’s highest alert level. The WHO first declared a state of emergency in January 2020.

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The WHO decision comes after the US earlier this month extended a public health emergency until April.

In a statement on Monday, Tedros said the world is in a much better state than it was a year ago when the omicron variant first swept the globe. The WHO estimates that at least 90% of the world’s population has some level of immunity to Covid through vaccination or infection.

According to the WHO, weekly deaths from Covid have dropped by 70% since the peak of the first massive omicron wave last February. But deaths started rising again in December as China, the world’s most populous country, faced its biggest wave of infections.

Tedros said on Friday that surveillance and genetic sequencing have been drastically reduced, making it difficult to track Covid variants and discover new ones. Too few older people are fully vaccinated and many people don’t have access to antivirals, he said.

“Don’t underestimate this virus,” Tedros told reporters at a press conference in Geneva on Friday. “He continues to amaze us and will continue to kill if we don’t do more to provide medical tools to the people who need them and combat misinformation comprehensively.”

Last month, the head of the WHO said the end of the emergency phase of the pandemic is closer than ever before. In the fall, Tedros said the end of the pandemic was near.

“We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We have not yet reached it, but the end is near,” Tedros told reporters in Geneva last September.

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