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COVID-19 global health emergency will hopefully end next year, WHO chief says. But ‘the burden of post-COVID condition is only likely to increase’

December 14, 2022, 7:42 PM UTC
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

The World Health Organization is hopeful that COVID-19 will no longer be a global health emergency as of next year, the organization’s chief said Wednesday.

The criteria for ending the emergency status will be discussed when the WHO’s COVID-19 emergency committee meets in January, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference in Geneva.

“Of course, this virus will not go away,” he said. “It’s here to stay, and all countries will need to learn to manage it alongside other respiratory illnesses including influenza and RSV, both of which are now circulating intensely in many countries.”

A year ago, as Omicron was taking off, the virus was killing 50,000 each week. Last week it killed less than 10,000, Ghebreyesus said.

“That’s still 10,000 too many, and there is still a lot countries can do to save lives, but we have come a long way,” he said.

COVID is “here to stay,” according to Ghebreyesus. And the challenges it poses will endure, including vaccinating people in low-income countries, making access to diagnostics and treatments more equitable, and improving viral surveillance, which has weakened as the pandemic drags on.

Another major challenge: long COVID, which affects an estimated 10% to 20% of people who’ve had COVID, according to the WHO.

“The burden of post-COVID-19 conditions is only likely to increase,” he said.

As the world looks to to end the COVID emergency, “we still need to understand how it began,” Ghebreyesus said, urging China to “share the data and conduct the studies that we have requested, to better understand the origins of the virus.”

“As I have said many times, all hypotheses remain on the table,” he added.

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