Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks during a news conference December 20, 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Denis Balibouse | Reuters
The spread of Covid-19 is no longer a global public health emergency, the World Health Organization said on Friday.
“For more than a year, the pandemic has been on a downward trend, with population immunity from vaccination and infection increasing, mortality falling and pressure on health systems easing,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference in Geneva.
“This trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before Covid-19,” Tedros said. “It is therefore with great hope that I declare Covid-19 a global public health emergency.”
Almost 7 million people have died from the virus worldwide since the WHO first declared a state of emergency on Jan. 30, 2020, according to official data from the UN agency. Tedros said the true death toll is at least 20 million.
The WHO decision comes as the US is set to end its national health emergency on Thursday.
Tedros said there was still a risk that a new variant could emerge and cause a further spike in cases. He warned national governments not to dismantle the systems they have built to fight the virus.
“This virus is here to stay. It’s still killing and still changing,” he said.
But the WHO chief said it was time countries moved from an emergency measure to treating Covid like other infectious diseases.
Covid was first observed in Wuhan, China in December 2019 when several patients developed pneumonia symptoms of unknown cause.
Covid was moving rapidly across the globe in early 2020, leading to an unprecedented halt to international travel and border closures as countries unsuccessfully tried to prevent the virus from spreading.
Covid devastated the elderly and other vulnerable populations, and devastated hospitals that did not have the bed capacity or supplies to handle the sudden surge in suffering and death.
Many national governments shut down public life in a desperate attempt to halt the deaths, resulting in a severe economic downturn and social disruption whose long-term consequences are unlikely to be fully understood for years to come.
“Covid-19 was so much more than just a health crisis,” Tedros said. “It has caused severe economic upheaval, wiping trillions from GDP, disrupting travel and trade, destroying businesses and plunging millions into poverty,” he said.
“It has caused severe social upheaval with closed borders, restrictions on movement, closed schools and millions of people experiencing loneliness, isolation, anxiety and depression,” Tedros said.
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China has been heavily criticized for not alarming the world sooner, a claim Beijing denies. Critics have also accused the WHO of over-reliance on information from Beijing early in the pandemic.
More than three years later, the origins of the virus are still a hotly debated mystery. Scientists, government officials and the general public continue to debate whether Covid spread to humans from an infected animal or leaked from a laboratory in China.
The US intelligence services are divided in their assessment of the origin of Covid.
The US government, allied nations and the WHO have criticized the Chinese government for not providing transparent access to data that could help determine the start of the pandemic.