WHO experts mull Covid emergency status

AFP , Thursday 4 May 2023

The World Health Organization's emergency committee is meeting Thursday to discuss if Covid-19 is still a global health emergency.

FILE - Soldiers from the military s chemical units take part in a drill to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Xindian district in Taiwan on March 14, 2020.AFP


The panel's 15th meeting on the crisis comes more than three years after it first sounded the WHO's highest emergency alarm as what was then called the novel coronavirus began spreading outside China.

The independent committee meets every three months to discuss the pandemic and reports to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who then decides whether it remains an international emergency.

The emergency committee meeting, chaired by French doctor Didier Houssin, was scheduled to begin at noon (1000 GMT) and was due to last all afternoon, although it could take days before the outcome is published.

It remains unclear which way the experts will lean, but there have recently been some indications that the United Nations' health agency is open to declaring an end to the emergency.

On Wednesday, the WHO published a new strategy for fighting Covid-19 over the next two years in which Tedros said the aim was "to support countries as they transition from an emergency response to longer-term sustained COVID-19 disease prevention, control and management".

And last week, the WHO said Covid-19 deaths had dropped by 95 percent since the start of the year, although it warned the virus was still on the move.

The positive trend may meanwhile not be enough to spur the emergency committee to advise stripping the Covid crisis of its status as a so-called public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) -- the WHO's highest level of alert.

The Covid numbers have been falling for a while, but when the committee last met in January, it concluded the PHEIC tag was still merited.

Though declaring a PHEIC is the internationally agreed mechanism for triggering a global response to such outbreaks, it was only after Tedros described the worsening Covid situation as a pandemic on March 11, 2020, that many countries woke up to the danger.

Since the beginning, more than 765 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported to the WHO from around the world, including nearly seven million deaths.

But the UN health agency always stresses that the true numbers are believed to be far higher.

Meanwhile, more than 13.3 billion vaccine doses have been administered.

In addition to the Covid crisis, two other WHO-declared PHEICs are currently ongoing -- one on poliovirus, first declared in May 2014, and the other on mpox, previously called monkeypox, declared in July last year.

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