WHO: Covid19 still a global health emergency

GENEVA, 30 Jan 2023:

The World Health Organisation (WHO) today warned Covid19 remains an international health emergency and continues to be “a dangerous infectious disease” that can cause considerable damage to people’s health and healthcare systems worldwide.

Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the statements after the UN health agency’s emergency committee on Covid19 met on Friday for the 14th time since the health crisis started in 2020.

Although Tedros acknowledged the pandemic had entered a “transition” phase, he said Covid19 “continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern”.

“While the world is in a better position than it was during the peak of the omicron transmission one year ago, more than 170,000 Covid19-related deaths have been reported globally within the last eight weeks,” he said, according to a report published by WHO today.

The agency meeting came as this week marks the three-year anniversary since WHO sounded the global alarm over the health risks Covid19 posed.

Although Covid19 has not officially been downgraded from its status as a PHEIC – public health emergency of international concern – many nations have shelved the most restrictive measures that were once in place in a bid to contain the spread of the infectious disease.

China has been the most recent country to lift all pandemic measures in December after its stringent zero Covid policy kept the country isolated with its borders closed, and citizens abiding by strict confinement measures and regular testing and tracking.

Following a sharp rise in infections and deaths as Beijing opened up again and relaxed Covid rules, caseloads are now declining steadily, according to the most recent data published by China’s National Health Commission.

Although the UN committee agreed the pandemic has reached an “inflection point,” the WHO chief warned the emergency phase of the health crisis was not over and said the global response to the pandemic “remains hobbled” in many countries that are not able to provide the tools populations need.

He added that to move past the PHEIC, “long-term public health action is critically needed” with the understanding that it is unlikely the virus will be eliminated from “human and animal reservoirs.”

Moving forward, the emergency committee recommended WHO and its partners should “develop a proposal for alternative mechanisms to maintain the global and national focus on Covid19 after the PHEIC is terminated.”

Tedros recalled many countries still lack sufficient vaccines and treatments to care for patients and that many health networks in low-income countries continue to suffer the burden of Covid19 infections.

An example of this is Nigeria, which today reported 30% of its population had been vaccinated for Covid19. The figure may seem low but just a year ago, vaccination rates barely reached 3%.