The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that the COVID-19 pandemic no longer constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the WHO's highest alert level, reported Xinhua.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, made the announcement at a virtual press conference from Geneva.
The WHO first gave COVID-19 its highest level of alert on Jan. 30, 2020, and a panel of global health experts has continued to apply the label ever since, at meetings held every three months. The last experts' meeting was held on Thursday.
"Yesterday, the Emergency Committee met for the fifteenth time and recommended to me that I declare an end to the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (for COVID-19)," said Tedros, chief of the global health watchdog.
"I have accepted that advice. It's therefore, with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency," he added.
The number of weekly reported deaths is at its lowest since the pandemic began, and in most countries, life has returned to "normal," said Tedros earlier in a WHO report.
In March 2020, WHO characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic while the novel coronavirus continued to spread worldwide.
As of May 3, 2023, there have been more than 765 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, including over 6.9 million deaths, reported to WHO, according to the UN agency's statistics.
Tedros said that the true figure was "likely" closer to 20 million deaths — nearly three times the official estimate — and he warned that the virus remained a significant threat.
The lowering of alert level "does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat," he said at the press conference, alongside senior WHO officials in charge of emergencies program, technical issues on COVID-19, alert and response coordination, immunization vaccines and biologicals, epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention.
On Wednesday, in its report on preparedness and response, WHO called on countries to transit from their critical emergency response activities to longer-term sustained COVID-19 disease prevention, control and management.
"As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its fourth year, we have every reason for hope," Tedros said in the report.
The WHO has outlined three objectives in the report: reduce the circulation of SARS-CoV-2; diagnose and treat COVID-19 to reduce mortality, morbidity and long-term sequelae; support countries as they transition from an emergency response to longer-term sustained COVID-19 disease prevention, control and management.
"COVID-19 has changed our world and it has changed us," Tedros said at Friday's press conference, warning that the risk of new variants still remained.