World Health Organization (W.H.O.) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on Friday his agency would no longer designate the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
The spread of coronavirus “is no longer an unusual or unexpected event” and “the world has made significant and impressive global progress since the declaration of the PHEIC in January 2020,” allowing for a change in approach to the disease.
The PHEIC designation is one of the most severe alarms that the W.H.O. can sound regarding disease outbreaks or other health struggles; it is given to situations that “require immediate international action” and jeopardize the health and safety of multiple countries, if not the whole world. Tedros declared the coronavirus then-epidemic a PHEIC on January 30, 2020, nearly a month after the nation of Taiwan first alerted the W.H.O. to the spread of an unknown infectious disease in central China.
Tedros announced the downgrade following a meeting of the W.H.O.’s emergency meeting to address the pandemic.
“With great hope I declare COVID-19 [Wuhan coronavirus] over as a global health emergency,” he wrote on social media.
Yesterday, the #COVID19 Emergency Committee met for the 15th time and recommended to me that I declare an end to the public health emergency of international concern. I have accepted that advice.
With great hope I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency.
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) May 5, 2023
The W.H.O. issued a statement explaining the rationale for the announcement, noting “the decreasing trend in COVID-19 deaths, the decline in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions, and the high levels of population immunity to SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes Wuhan coronavirus disease].”
“While the global risk assessment remains high, there is evidence of reducing risks to human health driven mainly by high population-level immunity from infection, vaccination, or both;” the agency detailed, “consistent virulence of currently circulating SARS-CoV-2 Omicron sub-lineages compared to previously circulating Omicron sub-lineages; and improved clinical case management.”
“These factors have contributed to a significant global decline in the weekly number of COVID-19 related deaths, hospitalizations, and admissions to intensive care units since the beginning of the pandemic,” it continued. “While SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve, the currently circulating variants do not appear to be associated with increased severity.”
The change in designation will allow the W.H.O. to shift to addressing the virus with changes to long-term care as a permanent challenge rather than an ongoing emergency. The agency emphasized that it would continue to offer vaccine products and work to increase access to these products to poorer nations despite the de-escalation of the emergency stance. Vaccine products that the W.H.O. approved in an emergency process would remain available under those licenses, it also noted.
Some vaccine products first heralded as being at the forefront of confronting the disease have been recently retired. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in April that it had withdrawn emergency use authorization for the original monovalent mRNA-technology vaccine products developed by the firms Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, on the grounds that they did not address the most common variants currently in circulation today. The FDA noted that it continued to authorize updated vaccine products that addressed the “omicron” subvariants of Wuhan coronavirus developed by those companies.
The W.H.O. concluded its announcement with suggestions to governments, including calls to “integrate” coronavirus vaccine products into already existing vaccine schedules for other diseases and to end all coronavirus travel restrictions.
Lady Gaga to embattled WHO Chief: "Dr. Tedros, you’re truly a superstar." https://t.co/ECdhCJFhcq
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) April 19, 2020
The W.H.O. declined to end the emergency as recently as this January. Tedros noted then that, while the world was “in a far better situation now” than a year prior, tens of thousands of coronavirus-related deaths were still being documented around the year.
“We remain hopeful that in the coming year, the world will transition to a new phase in which we reduce hospitalizations and deaths to the lowest possible level,” he said at the time.
Tedros made the announcement that coronavirus disease rose to the level of a PHEIC in late January, expressing concern that it could devastate countries with weak healthcare infrastructure. Tedros went out of his way to emphasize that the designation was not meant to condemn China, as the origin country of the virus, for its poor handling of the disease.
“This declaration is not a vote of non-confidence in China. …On the contrary, WHO continues to have the confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak,” he insisted.
I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of #2019nCoV, not because of what is happening in #China, but because of what is happening in other countries.https://t.co/HNrxyGeoBA
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) January 30, 2020
The Wuhan coronavirus first emerged in that central Chinese metropolis in late 2019; leaked Chinese government documents surfacing in the South China Morning Post suggest that the government diagnosed its first infection in humans on November 17, 2019. The Taiwanese government alerted the W.H.O. to the existence of a new disease in the last days of December 2019 – despite the W.H.O. blocking the island nation from membership to the United Nations organization – noting that its intelligence revealed fear among health workers of the spread of an unidentified infectious disease. Taiwanese officials noted a need for isolating patients in the letter, suggesting human-to-human transmission.
“Taiwan did report our concern on the severity of coronavirus last December to the WHO,” The Taiwanese Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington, DC, told Breitbart News in March 2020. “But as a rule, our reporting is always a one-way street. W.H.O. mostly ignored our messages and never shared information as they do to other countries.”
On January 14, 2020, the W.H.O. announced it had “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.”
Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China🇳. pic.twitter.com/Fnl5P877VG
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 14, 2020
The W.H.O. admitted such transmission less than two weeks later and declared the PHEIC before the end of January. By then, 5 million people had traveled out of Wuhan during the Lunar New Year holiday, spreading the disease worldwide.