The World Health Organization announced on Friday that the emergency status of the COVID-19 virus has ended as the organization focuses on the “long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic,” per a statement.
“It is with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, per The New York Times.
Many countries have already withdrawn the virus’ emergency status locally, and with WHO’s withdrawal, it’s considered a “celebration of science” for the great effort made for “vaccination, by masks, by a number of public health measures,” said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy from India’s Public Health Foundation, per the Times.
The United States plans to end the emergency measure on May 11.
WHO personnel have said that although there is no longer an emergency, the virus is still deadly and dangerous. Now it’s just considered an “established and ongoing health issue” — meaning that it’s not going away anytime soon.
“The emergency phase is over, but COVID is not,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said, per the Times.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the official death toll is close to 6.9 million people globally, per this week’s WHO report.
But it’s believed the unofficial count is significantly higher, closer to 20 million deaths, Tedros told the Times. While rates are declining, the death toll is still rising, with 17,000 more deaths reported in the last 28 days.
Many more are still suffering long-term side effects, like Utah teacher Blake Bockholt, who finds his health highly impacted even a year after contracting the virus.
Dr. Margareth Dalcolmo, who is a respiratory physician and member of Brazil’s National Academy of Medicine, told the Times that the change shouldn’t be seen as a milestone, but more like a lesson and a warning to be prepared for the next pandemic, because “respiratory viruses are going to increase.”