The World Health Organization said Friday that COVID-19 no longer qualifies as a global health emergency.
“It’s with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “That does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat.”
The latest declaration is a symbolic end to years of harsh lockdowns and emergency health protocols.
The U.N. health agency first referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as a global health emergency on Jan. 30, 2020. Since then, the virus has killed at least 7 million people.
Roughly 5 billion people — 70% of the global population — have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The WHO warned, however, that although the emergency phase of the pandemic is over, cases across the world, especially in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, are still on the rise, and thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week.
The origins and initial transmission of COVID-19 are still being debated.
In 2021, the WHO released a report saying the virus likely passed from animals to humans — shutting down a popular theory that alleged the virus was possibly leaked from a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The next year, WHO backtracked on its findings — saying that key data was still missing to completely rule out the lab theory.
A report released by the U.S. Energy Department in early March assessed that the virus most likely came from a "potential lab leak" in Wuhan. In response, Beijing immediately accused Washington of trying to "smear" China.
China has yet to fully disclose data that could be imperative to determine the origins of the virus.
"If any country has information about the origins of the pandemic, it's essential for that information to be shared with WHO and the international scientific community," Tedros said in response to the U.S.'s findings in March.
The View From the US
Earlier this week, the White House said that it was ending COVID-19 vaccine requirements for international air travelers to the U.S., federal employees, healthcare workers, and Head Start educators starting May 11.
COVID-19’s status as a public health emergency in the U.S. is also set to expire on the same day.
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, announced her resignation on Friday, saying the waning of COVID-19 marked a good time to transition out of her role.
Walensky has been the agency’s director for over two years and in her resignation letter to U.S. President Joe Biden she expressed “mixed feelings” about her decision, the Associated Press reported.
“I have never been prouder of anything I have done in my professional career,” she wrote.
Walensky’s last day will be June 30, and an interim director of the CDC was not immediately named.