The COVID-19 pandemic has reached a transition point, says WHO

It still remains a global health emergency.
Ameya Paleja
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

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The COVID-19 pandemic, which rapidly changed how the world functions, has now reached a "transition point," said the World Health Organization (WHO) as its Emergency Committee met for the 14th time since the beginning of the pandemic.

With our lives inching back slowly to the pre-pandemic normal, it might seem like the COVID-19 disease is over, and we are out of the danger zone. Even though the virus might not be spreading rampantly in your area, it is still claiming lives in other parts of the world. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the WHO told the Committee that as many as 170,000 people had lost their lives in the past eight weeks due to the disease.

The Emergency Committee's meetings are a way to take stock of the events on the ground to determine how the situation is on the ground and to chart a course for the future to handle the disease.

COVID-19 is still a global emergency

Director Tedros told the gathering that while the world is now better prepared with vaccines and treatment to fight COVID-19, he believed that the public health emergency of international concern or PHEIC for the disease should continue.

A PHEIC is an agreement between countries that allows them to abide by WHO's recommendations for managing a health emergency. Under a PHEIC, each country can declare its own public health emergency and redirect resources to fight the health crisis. The WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak in January 2020 as a PHEIC about six weeks prior to categorizing it as a pandemic.

Although the current strains of the virus now appear to cause milder forms of infection, the WHO Director-General believes that the virus cannot be underestimated and it can once again surprise us. If we do not remain prepared, the next wave of the virus could kill more people as well.

Preparations for the future

The Emergency Committee noted that amidst a lower number of COVID-19 cases, data on morbidity, hospitalization, and mortality had stopped coming in from countries. The virus was being allowed to circulate unchecked in the population as sequencing efforts were also being scaled back and information on new variants was lesser.

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As healthcare establishments faced a new wave of infections caused by influenza respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the workforce has shrunken and has become fatigued over the years of fighting COVID-19. Countries needed to remain vigilant and report surveillance and genomic data and also use this information to target public health and social measures (PHSM) as necessary.

Having administered more than 13.1 billion vaccine doses globally, the WHO emphasized vaccinating populations at risk to minimize severe disease and death. The health agency does not expect the virus to be eliminated from human and animal reservoirs and suggests that long-term action is critically needed.

The Committee also recommended that the WHO assesses if surveillance of COVID-19 could be integrated into the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System. It also recommended that member nations look to strengthen their national healthcare capacities to respond to future outbreaks.

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