WHO: Covid-19 will no longer be a pandemic sometime this year

The World Health Organisation says it is certain Covid-19 will no longer be a global pandemic this year.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement today he was confident, at some point this year, that the health body would no longer declare Covid-19 a global public health emergency.

His statement comes a little over three years – March 10, 2020 – after WHO first declared that the global outbreak of Covid-19 was a pandemic.

“However, from WHO’s perspective, the far more significant moment came six weeks earlier, on Jan 30, 2020, when I declared a public health emergency of international concern,” said Ghebreyesus during his keynote address at the Thomas Francis Jr Medal in Global Public Health award ceremony, at the University of Michigan, yesterday.

“At the time, there were fewer than 100 reported cases of Covid-19 outside China, and no reported deaths outside that country. Three years later, there are almost seven million reported deaths from Covid-19, although we know the number of fatalities is much higher.”

To date, there are 5,045,192 reported cases in Malaysia and 36,967 recorded deaths.

Ghebreyesus noted that the world is in a much better position now than at any time during the pandemic.

“For the first time, the weekly number of reported deaths is lower than when we first used the word ‘pandemic’ three years ago. The improvement is significant,” said Ghebreyesus.

“What is most important is that we all learn the lessons from the pandemic. If we do not, we will repeat the cycle of panic and neglect that has been the hallmark of the global response to epidemics and pandemics for decades.”

He said the pandemic had brought about three important lessons, including the need to invest in public health, especially in primary healthcare.

“The pandemic is a vivid demonstration that an advanced medical care system is not the same thing as a strong public health system,” said Ghebreyesus.

“Some countries with the most sophisticated medical care were overwhelmed by Covid-19. In contrast, some middle-income countries with fewer resources fared better, thanks to the investment in public health after the outbreak of SARS, MERS, H1N1, and others.”

Investing in public health, he said, would repay themselves many times over by preventing and mitigating the impact of epidemics and pandemics. It would also prevent or delay the need for costlier secondary and tertiary care.

Ghebreyesus said that while science had provided the tools to understand how the virus spreads, how it affects the human body, and how to stop it, the question of how the pandemic started remains unanswered.

“Finding the answer to this question remains a scientific imperative to help us prepare for, prevent, and respond to future epidemics and pandemics. It is also a moral imperative for the sake of those we have lost.

“And yet, more than three years after this outbreak started, we still don’t know how, due to the lack of cooperation from China to be transparent in sharing data and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results,” he said.

He added that in some countries, communities and social media, the marginalisation and politicisation of science had impeded the response to the pandemic, and had cost lives.

The use of masks and vaccines, and the implementation of lockdowns and other public health measures, have also been politicised.

The pandemic also showed that the world lacked cooperation and coordination.

“Instead of a coherent and cohesive global response, the pandemic has been marked by a chaotic patchwork of responses. This is because of narrow nationalism.”

Ghebreyesus said we can only face shared threats with a shared responsibility based on a shared commitment to solidarity and equity.

He said this was what the ‘pandemic accord’ that counties were now negotiating, was all about – an agreement between nations to cooperate with each other – to prepare and respond to epidemics and pandemics.

Countries of the WHO had, earlier this month, begun negotiations on a global accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, using the “zero draft” as a basis for negotiating an agreement to protect nations and communities from future pandemic emergencies.

A total of 194 countries will continue over the next year, according to a timetable by the World Health Assembly, to discuss the draft.

“It’s essential to emphasise that this accord is being negotiated by countries, for countries, and will be adopted and implemented by them, under their national laws.

“It will not give WHO any power to do anything without the express permission of sovereign nation-states,” he added.