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WHO ends global health emergency declaration for COVID-19

On Friday, World Health Organization director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated: "With great hope, I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency."
Fabrice Coffrini
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AFP via Getty Images
On Friday, World Health Organization director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated: "With great hope, I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency."

Updated May 5, 2023 at 12:13 PM ET

The World Health Organization has lifted the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) for COVID-19.

In a press conference on Friday, director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "COVID-19 has been so much more than a health crisis, disrupting economies, travel, shattering businesses and plunging millions into poverty."

He went on to state that for more than a year the pandemic has been on a downward trend and "this trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19."

Then he made the pronouncement: "Therefore, with great hope, I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency."

He also spoke of "the painful lessons we have learned," emphasizing that "the investments we have made and the capacities we have built must not go to waste. We owe it to those we have lost. To leverage those investments, to build on those capacities, to learn those lessons and to transform that suffering into meaningful and lasting change. One of the greatest tragedies of COVID-19 is that it didn't have to be this way."

The end of the emergency declaration comes more than three years after Tedros announced it on Jan. 30, 2020. At the time, there were fewer than 10,000 cases of the virus, most of them in China.

Nearly seven million deaths from COVID-19 have been reported to WHO, Tedros said. More than 1 million of the deaths were in the United States alone. But Tedros emphasized that "we know the [death] total is several times higher, at least 20 million."

During that time, the disease "turned our world upside down," he said. But the landscape has changed dramatically. While new variants may still pose a threat, vaccines and boosters have helped reduce the death rate.

WHO has issued the public health emergency declaration seven times since 2005. The designation triggers a series of rules that guide response to threatening disease outbreaks, including the fast-tracking of tests and medicines.

The declaration for COVID-19 was the first time the WHO announced an international health emergency since an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.
Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.