Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) announcing that Covid-19 is no longer a global emergency, at least one person dies from the virus every four minutes. While this is welcome news for most of us, questions on how to tackle the virus, in the long run, remain unanswered, putting vulnerable people and under-vaccinated countries at risk.
WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee decided to downgrade the pandemic status because of declining cases and deaths, high levels of public immunity from vaccination and infection, and reduced pressure on health systems. However, it’s important to remember that those figures only include reported cases and deaths. “Last week alone, Covid claimed someone’s life every three minutes — and that’s just those cases we know about,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Vaccines have been critical in the decline, with billions of doses administered worldwide. As a result, the number of people who fell ill or died from the virus has dropped to about its lowest point in more than three years.
But he warned against dismantling the systems that helped keep hospitals and other healthcare facilities up to the challenge of coping with Covid waves over the past three years. He noted that many of those facilities are still strained by bad flu seasons and that the ability to quickly add beds in unconventional settings and tap doctors in training to cope with sudden surges in patient admissions is now gone.
In the United States, which declared a Covid emergency at its peak, more than 1,000 people die each week from the virus. Most of those are over 75, a group that has largely lost interest in staying up to date on their Covid vaccines. CDC data show that only 42% of seniors have gotten the latest booster.
Even as Covid’s emergency status is lifted, experts say the virus will continue to challenge health systems worldwide long term. That’s because the immunity gained through infection or vaccination does not last forever. As a result, the threat of a new strain is genuine, especially in underdeveloped nations where the ability to produce effective vaccines is limited.
In the short term, lifting the Covid emergency means we are returning to a regular daily routine in the United States and many other countries which have already begun to lift their restrictions. But if we take our eye off the ball, there’s always the possibility of a more dangerous new Covid variant or another disease returning to the spotlight. That’s why we need to continue our efforts to keep the public informed and make sure that everyone gets a chance to be vaccinated. That includes ensuring everyone understands that they could end up sick or dead if they don’t get the shot. Then they’ll have no one to blame but themselves. For more information, visit our Covid resource page.