The Covid-19 pandemic is no longer a global health emergency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday.
The announcement marks a symbolic end to the devastating coronavirus pandemic that triggered once-unthinkable lockdowns, upended economies worldwide and killed at least seven million people worldwide.
The WHO said that even though the emergency phase is over, the pandemic has not come to an end, noting recent spikes in cases in south-east Asia and the Middle East.
The UN health agency said that thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “It’s with great hope that I declare Covid-19 over as a global health emergency.
“That does not mean Covid-19 is over as a global health threat.”
More than three years later, the virus has caused an estimated 764 million cases globally and about five billion people have received at least one dose of vaccine.
In the US, the public health emergency declaration made regarding Covid-19 is set to expire on May 11, when wide-ranging measures to support the pandemic response, including vaccine mandates, will end.
Many other countries, including the UK, Germany and France, dropped many of their provisions against the pandemic last year.
When Dr Tedros declared Covid-19 to be an emergency in 2020, he said his greatest fear was the virus’ potential to spread in countries with weak health systems he described as “ill-prepared”.
In fact, some of the countries that suffered the worst Covid-19 death tolls were previously judged to be the best-prepared for a pandemic, including the US and UK. According to WHO data, the number of deaths reported in Africa account for just 3% of the global total.
The WHO made its decision to lower its highest level of alert on Friday, after convening an expert group on Thursday.
The UN agency does not “declare” pandemics, but first used the term to describe the outbreak in March 2020, when the virus had spread to every continent except Antarctica, long after many other scientists had said a pandemic was already under way.
The WHO is the only agency mandated to coordinate the world’s response to acute health threats.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our thoughts and condolences remain with all those who have lost a loved one during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As it did for governments across the globe, the Covid-19 pandemic presented the Scottish Government with a huge and unprecedented challenge.
“Our priority throughout has been to save lives and reduce harms, seeking to take the best decisions, based on the best scientific and clinical evidence at any given time.
“Covid-19 has not gone away, and we continue to encourage people to take sensible precautions, including taking up the offer of vaccination when invited to protect themselves and others.
“As part of our enhanced surveillance system we continue to monitor, assess and be ready to respond to Covid-19 and other health threats.”
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