A group of health experts will meet to decide if COVID-19 is still an emergency according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) rules. The status helps to keep the global focus on the pandemic. The WHO first declared COVID as an emergency on January 30, 2020, and has continued to do so during meetings every three months. Some countries have lifted their domestic states of emergency, but WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hopes to end the international emergency this year. There is no consensus on which way the panel may rule, and advisors to WHO and external experts say that lifting the emergency status could impact global funding or collaboration efforts.
Professor Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist who is on the WHO panel, said that COVID remains a complex public health challenge and declined to speculate further ahead of the discussions, which are confidential. Meanwhile, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a leading COVID expert who previously advised the South African government on its response, said that if the emergency status is lifted, governments should maintain testing, vaccination, and treatment programs. Others have suggested that it is time to move to living with COVID as an ongoing health threat, like HIV or tuberculosis.
Lawrence Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University in the United States who follows the WHO, said that all emergencies must come to an end and expects WHO to end the public health emergency of international concern. However, if it is not ended this time, he expects it to end during the next emergency committee meeting.