More than 3 years after COVID's initial declaration as a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern), the IHR Emergency Committee this week has recommended downgrading the SARS-CoV-2 virus to an established and ongoing health issue.
Globally, reports of COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have plummeted in recent months, although all three metrics continue to be under-reported (see WHO: Countries Reporting COVID Data Continues To Decline).
Given the nearly unanimous decision by countries around the globe to deescalate their COVID response, the decision by the WHO to follow suit is not terribly surprising. The link to the WHO's statement, and an excerpt, follow.
I'll have a brief postscript after the break.
Statement on the fifteenth meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic
5 May 2023
Reading time: 7 min (1785 words)
The WHO Director-General has the pleasure of transmitting the Report of the fifteenth meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus 2019 disease (COVID-19) pandemic, held on Thursday 4 May 2023, from 12:00 to 17:00 CET.
During the deliberative session, the Committee members highlighted the decreasing trend in COVID-19 deaths, the decline in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions, and the high levels of population immunity to SARS-CoV-2. The Committee’s position has been evolving over the last several months. While acknowledging the remaining uncertainties posted by potential evolution of SARS-CoV-2, they advised that it is time to transition to long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WHO Director-General concurs with the advice offered by the Committee regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He determines that COVID-19 is now an established and ongoing health issue which no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).
The WHO Director-General considered the advice provided by the Committee regarding the proposed Temporary Recommendations and issued them as per the below statement. The WHO Director-General will convene an IHR Review Committee to advise on Standing Recommendations for the long-term management of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, taking into account the 2023-2025 COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. During this transition, States Parties are advised to continue following the issued Temporary Recommendations. The Director-General expressed his sincere gratitude to the Chair, the Members, and the Advisors of the Committee for their engagement and advice during the last three years.
Prior to this COVID emergency, `conventional wisdom' was that a pandemic emergency might last 18 months, nobody seriously considered 3+ years. But then, a lot of pre-conceived notions were challenged during this unique pandemic.
While COVID has thankfully settled down into a series of lower amplitude waves, SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve, making the future course and impact of the virus unknowable.
As a practical matter, most nations around the globe had already ended their emergency response prior to today's announcement, so its impact will be limited.