WHO maintains highest alert status for COVID but sees ‘transition point’

The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that the COVID-19 pandemic remains a “public health emergency of international concern” while acknowledging the outbreak has reached a “transition point.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday relayed the findings from a recent report made by the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee.

“The WHO Director-General concurs with the advice offered by the Committee regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and determines that the event continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC),” a statement from the WHO read.

“The Director-General acknowledges the Committee’s views that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably at a transition point and appreciates the advice of the Committee to navigate this transition carefully and mitigate the potential negative consequences,” it added.

As was noted in the WHO statement, this assessment was made in the week marking the third anniversary since the COVID-19 pandemic was first declared a public health emergency by the organization.

Under IHR standards first adopted in 2005, a PHEIC is declared by the WHO when two out of four set criteria are met: if the emergency has a serious impact on public health, if it is unusual or unexpected, if there is a risk of significant international spread, and if there is a risk of restrictions being placed on international trade and travel.

Since these standards were first adopted almost 20 years ago, six PHEIC have been declared, including the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009 and the Zika virus outbreak in 2016 as well as the recent spread of COVID-19 and monkeypox.

The WHO stated the world is in a better position than when the public health emergency was first declared in 2020 but noted that surveillance and genetic sequencing have declined globally.

According to data shared in Tedros’s meeting with the committee, 13.1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered around the world, with 89 percent of health workers and 81 percent of adults over 60 having completed their primary series of immunizations.

The WHO hinted last year that the end of its COVID-19 public health emergency declaration could be nearing. In September, Tedros said in a press briefing that the world was “in a better position to end the pandemic” and that “the end is in sight.”

Similar reports have recently been made in the U.S. regarding the domestic public health emergency. Politico reported earlier in January that the White House was considering allowing the health emergency to end after the most recent renewal. An administration official later told The Hill that any suggestions that an end date had been established were “untrue.”

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