WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee discussed the pandemic on Friday at its 14th meeting on Covid-19, and Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus concurred that the public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC, declaration should continue.
In a statement released on Monday, WHO’s advisory committee said it urged WHO to propose “alternative mechanisms to maintain the global and national focus on COVID-19 after the PHEIC is terminated.”
“Achieving higher levels of population immunity globally, either through infection and/or vaccination, may limit the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on morbidity and mortality, but there is little doubt that this virus will remain a permanently established pathogen in humans and animals for the foreseeable future. As such, long-term public health action is critically needed,” the committee said in a statement on Monday. “While eliminating this virus from human and animal reservoirs is highly unlikely, mitigation of its devastating impact on morbidity and mortality is achievable and should continue to be a prioritized goal.”
In a list of temporary recommendations, Tedros said countries should continue vaccinating people and incorporate Covid-19 vaccines into routine care; improve disease surveillance; maintain a strong health care system to avoid a “a panic-neglect cycle”; continue to fight misinformation; and adjust international travel measures based on risk assessment.
The organization declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a PHEIC in January 2020, about six weeks before characterizing it as a pandemic.
A PHEIC creates an agreement between countries to abide by WHO’s recommendations for managing the emergency. Each country, in turn, declares its own public health emergency – declarations that carry legal weight. Countries use them to marshal resources and waive rules in order to ease a crisis.
The US also remains under its own public health emergency declaration, which US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra renewed most recently January 11.
More than 170,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the past eight weeks, Tedros said last week when he announced the committee meeting, and even though the world is better equipped to manage the pandemic than it was three years ago, he remains “very concerned by the situation in many countries and the rising number of deaths.”
While global Covid-19 deaths are trending upward, the seven-day average remains significantly lower than previous points of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Last week, ahead of the committee meeting, Tedros pleaded with countries not to let up on the fight against Covid-19.
“My message is clear: Do not underestimate this virus,” he said. “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.”