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WHO keeps guard up on coronavirus

Updated: 2023-01-31 06:57

FILE PHOTO: The World Health Organization logo is pictured at the entrance of the WHO building, in Geneva, Switzerland, December 20, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

COVID-19 remains global emergency, health body says with eye on next crisis

GENEVA — Three years to the day after the World Health Organization sounded the highest level of global alert over COVID-19, it said on Monday that the pandemic remains an international emergency.

The UN health agency's announcement came as it tries to push for an expanded role in tackling the next global health emergency after the coronavirus.

The WHO's emergency committee on COVID-19 met on Friday for the 14th time since the start of the crisis.

Following that meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus "concurs with the advice offered by the committee regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and determines that the event continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern", the organization said in a statement.

Tedros, it said, "acknowledges the committee's views that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably at a transition point and appreciates the advice of the committee to navigate this transition carefully and mitigate the potential negative consequences".

Even prior to the meeting, Tedros had suggested the emergency phase of the pandemic is not over, pointing to surging numbers of deaths and warning that the global response to the crisis "remains hobbled".

"As we enter the fourth year of the pandemic, we are certainly in a much better position now than we were a year ago, when the Omicron wave was at its peak, and more than 70,000 deaths were being reported to WHO each week," he told the committee at the start of Friday's meeting.

Tedros said the weekly death rate had dropped below 10,000 in October but had been rising again since the start of December, he said.

The WHO first declared a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC, in response to what was then called the novel coronavirus on Jan 30, 2020.

Though declaring a PHEIC is the internationally agreed mechanism for triggering a global response to such outbreaks, it was only after Tedros described the worsening situation as a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

Globally, over 752 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been reported to the WHO as of Monday.

Future focus

In an effort to be better prepared for future global health emergencies after COVID-19, the agency's Geneva meeting, which was scheduled to start on Monday, sets the program for the agency this year, as well as its future budget.

At the executive board's annual meeting from Jan 30 to Feb 7, countries will give feedback on Tedros' global strategy to strengthen readiness for the next pandemic, which includes a binding treaty currently being negotiated.

"I think the focus is very much on the program budget, then sustainable financing," Timothy Armstrong, WHO director for governing bodies, told journalists when asked about the agenda.

The WHO is seeking a record $6.86 billion for its 2024-25 budget, saying that approving this sum would be "a historic move" toward a more empowered and independent WHO.


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