COVID-19 pandemic is at ‘transition point,’ WHO says

COVID-19 is at a “transition point,” but it remains a public health emergency of international...
COVID-19 is at a “transition point,” but it remains a public health emergency of international concern, World Health Organization officials say.(CNN Newsource)
Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 8:32 AM CST
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(CNN) - The World Health Organization said Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic remains a global health emergency, but the organization and its advisors also acknowledged the pandemic is at a “transition point.”

On Friday, WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee discussed the pandemic and Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus concurred with its finding that the public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC, should continue.

In a statement released on Monday, WHO’s advisory committee said it urged WHO to propose “alternative mechanisms to maintain the global and national focus on COVID-19 after the PHEIC is terminated.”

“Achieving higher levels of population immunity globally, either through infection and/or vaccination, may limit the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on morbidity and mortality, but there is little doubt that this virus will remain a permanently established pathogen in humans and animals for the foreseeable future. As such, long-term public health action is critically needed,” the committee said in a statement on Monday. “While eliminating this virus from human and animal reservoirs is highly unlikely, mitigation of its devastating impact on morbidity and mortality is achievable and should continue to be a prioritized goal.”

In a list of temporary recommendations, Tedros said countries should continue vaccinating people and incorporate COVID-19 vaccines into routine care, improve disease surveillance, maintain a strong health care system to avoid “a panic-neglect cycle,” continue to fight misinformation and adjust international travel measures based on risk assessment.

The organization declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020, about six weeks before characterizing it as a pandemic.

A public health emergency of international concern creates an agreement between countries to abide by WHO’s recommendations for managing the emergency. Each country, in turn, declares its own public health emergency – declarations that carry legal weight. Countries use them to marshal resources and waive rules in order to ease a crisis.

The United States also remains under its own public health emergency declaration, which Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra renewed most recently on Jan. 11.

More than 170,000 people have died globally from COVID-19 in the past eight weeks, Tedros said last week when he announced the committee meeting.

He said that even though the world is better equipped to manage the pandemic than it was three years ago, he remains “very concerned by the situation in many countries and the rising number of deaths.”

While global COVID-19 deaths are trending upward, the seven-day average remains significantly lower than previous points of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.