Covid-19 is likely to be downgraded from a Public Health Emergency of International Concern this year as it shifts to a flu-like risk level, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We are reaching that point where we can look at covid-19 in the same way that we look at seasonal influenza,” the WHO said. michael ryan at a press conference today. “A threat to health, a virus that will continue to kill. But a virus that is not altering our society or our hospital systems.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the announcement at the press conference. “We are certainly in a much better position now than at any time during the pandemic,” she said.
The WHO declared covid-19 a public health emergency of international concern, its highest threat level, in January 2020, after coronavirus cases rose steadily in China and were confirmed in 18 other countries. Two months later, the organization said the phenomenon had become a pandemic, which generally means a disease is spreading across multiple countries, although there is no universally accepted definition.
While the coronavirus is still widely circulating, it is now less likely to cause severe illness as most people have had it at least once, many have been vaccinated multiple times, and current omicron variants are less virulent than some. earlier variants.
“It’s very nice to see that, for the first time, the weekly number of reported deaths in the last four weeks has been lower than when we first used the word ‘pandemic’ three years ago,” Ghebreyesus said. “I am confident that this year we will be able to say that covid-19 is over as a public health emergency of international concern. We’re not there yet.”
A WHO committee has been reviewing criteria that would mean the threat of Covid-19 could be reduced, but has not yet made a decision.
“We are on a positive trajectory,” Ryan said. “The virus will pose less and less of a threat to society, where sudden increases in virus transmission would not be associated with higher rates of hospitalization,” Ryan said. “We have started to see that in the last six months, where an increase in infection has not been associated with sustained pressure on the health system, because vaccination rates are high enough.”
Ryan added, however, that many countries still had gaps in vaccination coverage and access to antiviral treatment for those who are medically vulnerable. “We have to protect communities that could be vulnerable to serious diseases,” he said. And if the virus evolves to become more virulent, “all bets are off,” he said.
However, Stephen Griffin from the University of Leeds, UK, which is a member of iSAGE, an independent group of scientists, says the WHO’s plans are premature. “Most troubling is the continued isolation and discrimination against millions of clinically vulnerable people, especially those who cannot respond to vaccines effectively,” she says.