The World Health Organization announced on Friday that it was ending the emergency it declared for Covid-19 more than three years ago, a milestone in the fitful emergence from a pandemic that has killed millions of people around the world and upended daily life in previously unimaginable ways.
“It is with great hope that I declare Covid-19 over as a global health emergency,” said the W.H.O. director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
But W.H.O. officials warned that the decision to lift the emergency does not signal an end to the pandemic, and cautioned countries not take this as reason to dismantle Covid response systems. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the W.H.O. technical lead on Covid, said the organization wanted to be as clear as possible knowing that people would wonder how to think about the pandemic going forward.
“The emergency phase is over, but Covid is not,” she said.
Indeed, in practical terms, the decision to end the emergency changes little. Many countries have already ended their own states of emergency for Covid, and have moved away from almost all public health restrictions implemented to control the virus. The United States will lift its Covid emergency on May 11. But the lifting of the W.H.O. designation — officially called a “public health emergency of international concern” — is a significant moment in the evolving human relationship with the novel coronavirus.
Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, who led India’s Public Health Foundation through the pandemic, said the decision to lift the emergency was appropriate, because of the high levels globally of immunity to Covid, induced by vaccination or infection, or both.
“It no longer possesses the same level of danger,” he said, adding that Covid “has achieved a level of equilibrium, a certain type of coexistence with the human host.”
Dr. Reddy said the end of the emergency status should also be appreciated as a moment of human achievement and a “celebration of science.”