Emergency Covid phase ends



The World Health Organization has declared an end to the emergency phase of Covid-19, but cautioned that risks still remain for the appearance of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In a statement on 5 May, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, said  Covid-19 will no longer be categorised as a public health emergency of international concern. But its status as a pandemic will remain until these risks diminish.

Going forward, the pandemic “appears to be in transition to a more endemic situation globally,” the WHO said.

Covid-19 was declared an emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020. Since that time, member countries of the WHO have reported about seven million deaths from the disease. But this is likely to be an underestimate, according to an article in Nature on 5 May.

WHO figures show that member states have made a concerted effort to vaccinate their citizenry when supplies have been available. Nearly 70% of the global population has received a vaccine, but 30% have not. Large gaps in vaccine-derived immunity remain, especially in poorer countries and for people at risk of severe disease.

Health workers have been generally well protected. As of 5 April, 89% of health workers and 82% of older adults worldwide had received a complete primary series of Covid-19 vaccination. The figure for the general population was 66%. However, in low-income countries, primary vaccination for health workers was 52%. For older people it was 35%.

Dr Tedros said the WHO has updated its strategic plan for coping with the pandemic. Initially, the plan had two objectives: to reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and diagnose and treat Covid-19 in order to reduce cases of sickness and death.

A third objective has now been added for 2023 to 2025. This is to treat people with long Covid which is an ongoing health problem for those who have been infected by the virus but unable to subdue it. The updated strategy will emphasise vaccination in vulnerable populations, early diagnosis and treatment of the disease, and integrating Covid-19 measures into existing primary healthcare services.

Separately, the US is to end its public health emergency for Covid-19 on 11 May. This means that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will fold its emergency pandemic measures into existing regulations. Access to vaccines and treatments won’t immediately be affected. But over time, access will be subject to the terms of an individual’s insurance policy.

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