Public health experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) are discussing when and how to declare the end of the global Covid-19 crisis.
More than two years after the emergence of the virus, experts at the World Health Organization have started looking for criteria necessary to declare the end of the public health emergency. However, the WHO is being cautious, and has clarified that such a declaration is not being considered yet since coronavirus cases and fatalities are still spiking in different areas of the world. For instance, last week China reported more than 1,000 new daily cases for the first time in two years, while in Hong Kong fatalities have spiked again. Even in Germany numbers recently rebounded back near record levels. In the past week, more than 10 million Covid cases and 52,000 deaths have been reported worldwide. Therefore, experts at the WHO are exploring what would be an important milestone that would eventually signal that the public health emergency is now over.
The International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Covid-19 is looking at the criteria needed to declare the public health emergency of international concern as terminated.World Health Organization
Additionally, researchers have warned that Covid-19 is likely to cause thousands of deaths each year—even if cases fall to lower levels—like it happened with other endemic illnesses such as malaria and tuberculosis. The emergence of potential new variants is also unpredictable.
The WHO is being cautious to call an end to the global health crisis, as it has been during past emergencies. The decision would be made by Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus after consultation with experts.
A declaration of the end of Covid-19 would be a symbolic step to return to more normal social behaviors. Many countries around the world have already lifted several covid-related measures, including relaxing masking and quarantine guidelines, and opening borders to travelers.
According to David Heymann, a former WHO and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist, several countries no longer rely solely on the WHO’s guidance, but they rather depend on national and regional scientific advisory groups.
They’re not ignoring the WHO, but they’re depending more on national and regional scientific advisory groups.David Heymann, former WHO and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist
Heymann explained that a key indicator for countries is population immunity, which indicates the proportion of people who possess antibodies to the Covid-19 virus either from immunization, infection, or both. He added that population immunity does not provide the same level of antibody protection needed to achieve herd immunity, which would prevent any virus spread. Achieving herd immunity is very unlikely because current vaccines do not prevent infections and people can be repeatedly infected.
The WHO’s decision to end the public health crisis could have implications for pharmaceutical companies that have agreed to allow generic competition to their Covid-19 treatments until the end of the pandemic.