The covid pandemic is approaching a “tipping point”. This is how the World Health Organization (WHO) sees it, which continues to consider the disease an “international health emergency”, after a meeting to evaluate it that it held in Geneva last Friday and whose results were announced this Monday.
The members of the emergency committee maintain this status considering that the coronavirus can still have a significant impact on public health, with a high number of deaths compared to other respiratory infectious diseases, the “insufficient acceptance” of the vaccine in the low- and middle-income countries, as well as in higher-risk groups, and the uncertainty associated with emerging variants.
The committee meets every three months since the international emergency was declared, just three years ago (on January 30, 2020). After having passed the peak of infections in China without significant repercussions outside the country and after threatening variants such as XBB.1.5 (better known as kraken) have not shown to have a notable impact on health systems, some experts considered that this meeting she could be the one who decided to put an end to the emergency.
The fact of being or not in an international emergency is the way that the WHO has to expedite decisions. Although for practical purposes it does not imply any obligation for the countries (which the organization cannot force to make any decision), it is a means to mobilize resources more quickly and issue resolutions that have a greater echo in the member states. For a disease to be considered an international health emergency, it must have a serious impact on public health and be unusual and unexpected, with a risk of international expansion, and have the capacity to generate restrictions on the movement of goods or people.
To overcome the emergency, WHO calls on states to implement sustainable, systematic and long-term prevention, surveillance and control action plans. Meanwhile, it urges them to remain vigilant and continue to report surveillance and genomic sequencing data; recommend public health and social measures; vaccinate populations most at risk to minimize severe illness and death; and conduct regular risk communication, responding to public concerns and engaging communities to improve understanding and implementation of countermeasures.
WHO experts will meet in three months to reassess the situation. It will depend on the epidemic state of the world and on whether countries have implemented these measures whether the emergency continues or living with the coronavirus is officially the new normal.
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