BBC News: LONDON, By Smitha Mundasad & Philippa Roxby – The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that COVID-19 no longer represents a “global health emergency”.

The statement represents a major step towards ending the pandemic and comes three years after it first declared its highest level of alert over the virus.

Officials said the virus’ death rate had dropped from a peak of more than 100,000 people per week in January 2021 to just over 3,500 on April 24.

The head of the WHO said at least seven million people died in the pandemic.

‘Great hope’

But Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the true figure was “likely” closer to 20 million deaths – nearly three times the official estimate – and he warned that the virus remained a significant threat.

“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’ve accepted that advice. It is therefore with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” Dr Tedros said.

He added that the decision had been considered carefully for some time and made on the basis of careful analysis of data.

But he warned the removal of the highest level of alert did not mean the danger was over and said the emergency status could be reinstated if the situation changed.

“The worst thing any country can do now is to use this news as a reason to let down its guard, to dismantle the systems it has built, or to send the message to its people that COVID-19 is nothing to worry about,” he said.

The World Health Organization first declared COVID-19 to be a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) in January 2020.

This signalled the need for coordinated global action to protect people from the new virus.

It will now be up to individual countries to continue to manage COVID in the way they think best.

Vaccines were one of the major turning points in the pandemic. According to the WHO, 13 billion doses have been given, allowing many people to be protected from serious illness and death.

But in many countries vaccines have not reached most of those in need.

More than 765 million confirmed COVID infections have been recorded worldwide.

The US and UK, like many other countries, have already talked about “living with the virus” and wound down many of the tests and social mixing rules.

Dr Mike Ryan, from the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said the emergency may have ended, but the threat is still there.

“We fully expect that this virus will continue to transmit and this is the history of pandemics,” he said.

“It took decades for the final throes of the pandemic virus of 1918 to disappear.

“In most cases, pandemics truly end when the next pandemic begins.”

Top Feature Photo: A huge wave of infections hit countries around the world in 2020