Is the COVID Pandemic Over?

There is widespread speculation that the World Health Organization (WHO) will decide that COVID-19 is no longer a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)” when its expert group convenes on Thursday.

The 15th meeting of the Emergency Committee for COVID-19 has been convened by the WHO Director-General in terms of the International Health Regulations (IHR).

Fueling the speculation is the WHO’s release late on Wednesday of a 20-page “updated COVID-19 Global Strategic Preparedness, Readiness and Response Plan (SPRP) 2023-2025”.

The document is a guide for countries on how to manage COVID-19 over the next two years “in the transition from an emergency phase to a longer-term, sustained response”, according to the global body.

WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus notes in the foreword that, aside from the usual objectives of reducing the circulation of SARS-CoV-2 and diagnosing and treating COVID-19, the plan adds a third objective: “to support countries as they transition from an emergency response to longer-term sustained COVID-19 disease prevention, control and management”. 

“We do not propose that countries abandon the 10 pillars that served as a foundation for the pandemic response,” adds Tedros. “Rather, the new strategy aligns these 10 pillars with the five core components of equitable, inclusive and effective health emergency preparedness, response and resilience: collaborative surveillance, community protection, safe and scalable care, access to countermeasures, and emergency coordination.”

The focus is on restoring, reinforcing and strengthening health systems, as well as “integrating COVID-19 surveillance and management into that of other respiratory diseases”. 

Long COVID focus

The new plan places a strong emphasis on long COVID, which may affect as many as 6% of those infected with COVID-19. It calls for more research to better understand the post-COVID condition, “including its risk factors and the role of immunity, and to develop methods to better quantify its burden”.

“Although we are in a much stronger position in facing the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus is here to stay and countries need to manage it alongside other infectious diseases,” according to the WHO.

Meanwhile, the WHO’s coronavirus dashboard notes no new COVID-19 cases have been reported in the past 24 hours – although it is widely recognised that many countries are no longer monitoring new infections.

In late March, the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) decided that additional COVID-19 vaccine boosters were not recommended for people at low to medium risk of the disease who have been vaccinated and boosted once.

SAGE recommended an additional booster six to 12 months after the last dose for “high priority” people, depending on factors such as age and immuno-compromising conditions.

On Monday, the US announced that it would end COVID-19 vaccine mandates for international travellers, health workers in hospitals and federal employees on 11 May.

“While vaccination remains one of the most important tools in advancing the health and safety of employees and promoting the efficiency of workplaces, we are now in a different phase of our response when these measures are no longer necessary,” said the White House.

Image Credits: Vital Strategies.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.