WHO says COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency

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The World Health Organization declares an end to the Covid-19 global health emergency. (Photo credit: Denis Balibouse/Reuters/File)

(CNN) — COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

WHO's International Health Regulations Emergency Committee discussed the pandemic on Thursday at its 15th meeting on COVID-19, and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus concurred that the public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC, declaration should end.

"For more than a year the pandemic has been on a downward trend," Tedros said at a news conference Friday.

"This trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before COVID-19," Tedros said. "Yesterday, the 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."

The organization declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020, about six weeks before characterizing it as a pandemic.

A PHEIC creates an agreement between countries to abide by WHO's recommendations for managing the emergency. Each country, in turn, declares its own public health emergency -- declarations that carry legal weight. Countries use them to marshal resources and waive rules in order to ease a crisis.

The United States is set to let its COVID-19 public health emergency end on May 11.

There have been more than 765 million confirmed COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, according to WHO data. Nearly 7 million people have died. Europe has had the most confirmed cases overall, but the Americas have reported the most deaths. About 1 in 6 total deaths have been in the US.

Cases peaked in December 2022 as Omicron swept the globe, hitting the Western Pacific particularly hard. But billions of vaccine doses have been administered globally, and deaths have remained far below previous peaks.

Now, COVID-19 cases and deaths are about the lowest they've been in three years. Still, more than 3,500 people died in the last week of April and billions remain unvaccinated.