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WHO considers 'global emergency' status

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-28 09:36
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The World Health Organization's emergency committee was due to meet on Friday to evaluate whether the COVID-19 pandemic still represents a global emergency.

The WHO confirmed on Tuesday that cases were declining globally over the previous four weeks, but noted deaths had increased over the same period.

The emergency committee meets every 3 months or more frequently as required, and last met in October. The panel has met 13 times since it first recommended a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC, over COVID-19, three years ago.

The WHO explained that the emergency committee will consider the specific boundaries of a PHEIC, namely whether the outbreak is still "serious, sudden, unusual, or unexpected".

Following the latest emergency committee meeting, the panel will update WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who makes the final call on whether an outbreak warrants a PHEIC, its highest level of alert.

Tedros has consistently followed the committee's advice throughout the pandemic, and is expected to announce his ultimate decision on Monday.

Reuters reported that several leading scientists and WHO advisers say it may be too soon to announce the end of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency because of high levels of infections seen in some countries.

Death trend

Tedros expressed concerns about the death trend during a WHO media briefing this past week. He said over the past eight weeks, more than 170,000 people have died from COVID-19, adding that the actual number is much higher due to unreported deaths.

"While I will not preempt the advice of the emergency committee, I remain very concerned by the situation in many countries and the rising number of deaths," Tedros said."While we are clearly in better shape than three years ago when this pandemic first hit, the global collective response is once again under strain."

The WHO's weekly situation report said cases have declined 25 percent over the previous four weeks, but highlighted that deaths increased 13 percent over the same period. It said deaths have been rising since early December.

Tedros said too few people, especially older people and health workers, are adequately vaccinated, and good medical care was not available for many as fragile health systems are beset with numerous respiratory virus challenges.

He noted that "too many people are behind on their boosters" and that "for too many people, antivirals remain expensive and out of reach".

More than two-thirds of the world's population has now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to official government datasets published by

"My message is clear - do not underestimate this virus; it has and will continue to surprise us and it will continue to kill, unless we do more to get health tools to people that need them and to comprehensively tackle misinformation," Tedros said.

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