Coronavirus

After 3 years, COVID-19 no longer 'global health emergency'

The World Health Organization declared an end to the COVID-19 pandemic as a "global health emergency" but said the virus remains a "health threat."

After 3 years, COVID-19 no longer 'global health emergency'
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The World Health Organization declared Friday that the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a global health emergency after three years and two months. 

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday at a news conference that the virus claimed the lives of 20 million people worldwide, but fewer have been dying from COVID-19 in recent months.

"For more than a year, the pandemic has been on a downward trend," Tedros said. "With population immunity increasing from vaccination and infection, mortality decreasing and the pressure on health systems easing, this trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19."

Tedros said the WHO Emergency Committee recommended he end the COVID-19 global health emergency.

"But that does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat," Tedros said.

A global health emergency is defined by the WHO as "an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response."

The announcement comes as the U.S. government prepares to end its COVID-19 emergency declaration on May 11. 

"This virus is here to stay. It's still killing and it's still changing. The risk remains of new variants that cause new surges in cases and deaths," Tedros said. "The worst thing any country could do now is use this news as a reason to let down its guard, to dismantle the systems it has built or send a message that COVID-19 is nothing to worry about. What this news means is that it's time for countries to transition from emergency mode to managing COVID-19 alongside other infectious diseases."

Dr. Matthew Laurens with the University of Maryland School of Medicine said continued vigilance is vital, but he supports the WHO's decision.

"We still recognize that COVID-19 is a deadly illness potentially, but we now are in a different place," he said. "We have therapeutics, we have vaccines to prevent it that prevent the very serious outcomes of death and hospitalization. So in terms of now versus where we are just in 2020, it is very different."

According to the CDC, less than 80,000 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the U.S. last week. That's the lowest number in two years, but health experts warn the actual number of cases is likely much higher.

The WHO noted that worldwide, 82% of adults over age 60 are vaccinated against COVID-19. Those over age 60 are among those at highest risk of complications with COVID-19.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 is no longer a pandemic. This story has been updated. 

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