The International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee regarding the Covid-19 disease held its 14th meeting since the beginning of the pandemic on 27 January. After careful consideration, the Emergency Committee has established that the Covid-19 pandemic has reached a transition point.
While WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus agrees with this assessment, he stressed the pandemic still continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) and the transition should be navigated carefully to mitigate the potential negative consequences.
1. Status of the pandemic
“This week marks the three-year anniversary of the determination of the Covid-19 PHEIC in January 2020”, Ghebreyesus noted during the meeting. “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 Covid-19-related deaths have been reported globally within the last eight weeks. In addition, surveillance and genetic sequencing have declined globally, making it more difficult to track known variants and detect new ones.”
Covid-19 remains a dangerous infectious disease with the capacity to cause substantial damage to health and health systems.IHR Emergency Committee
Globally, 13.1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered, with 89% of health workers and 81% of adults over 60 years having completed the primary series. Significant progress has also been made in developing effective medical countermeasures, building global capacity for genomic sequencing and genomic epidemiology and in understanding how to manage the infodemic in the new informational eco-system including social media platforms.
The Committee, therefore, recommended that WHO, in consultation with partners and stakeholders, should develop a proposal for alternative mechanisms to maintain the global and national focus on Covid-19 after the PHEIC is terminated, including, if needed, a possible Review Committee to advise on the issuance of standing recommendations under the IHR. The Committee also encouraged WHO to assess and, if necessary, to accelerate the integration of Covid-19 surveillance into the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System.
2. Temporary Recommendations issued by WHO
- Maintain momentum for Covid-19 vaccination to achieve 100% coverage of high-priority groups guided by the evolving SAGE recommendations on the use of booster doses. States Parties should plan for integration of Covid-19 vaccination into part of life-course immunization programmes.
- Improve reporting of SARS-CoV-2 surveillance data to WHO. Better data are needed to: detect, assess, and monitor emerging variants; identify significant changes to Covid-19 epidemiology; and understand the burden of Covid-19 in all regions.
- Increase uptake and ensure long-term availability of medical countermeasures, including enhance access to Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.
- Maintain strong national response capacity and prepare for future events to avoid the occurrence of a panic-neglect cycle.
- Continue working with communities and their leaders to address the infodemic and to effectively implement risk-based public health and social measures (PHSM).
- Continue to adjust any remaining international travel-related measures, based on risk assessment, and to not require proof of vaccination against Covid-19 as a prerequisite for international travel.
- Continue to support research for improved vaccines that reduce transmission and have broad applicability, as well as research to understand the full spectrum, incidence and impact of post Covid-19 condition, and to develop relevant integrated care pathways.