WHO to decide if COVID remains an emergency. What will this mean for Canada? – National

WHO to decide if COVID remains an emergency. What will this mean for Canada? – National

As a World Health Organization committee ponders whether COVID-19 remains an international emergency, some health experts say that whatever decisions are made, the virus still poses a public health threat and efforts to control and contain it should continue in Canada .

The WHO Emergency Committee has met 14 times in the past three years since the UN agency first declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020, to determine whether deportation – the highest level of alert – should be retained.

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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that while the global situation has improved, a recent spike in the number of deaths and large-scale outbreaks in China are worrying.

“As we enter the fourth year of the pandemic, we are certainly in a much better position now than we were a year ago when the omicron wave was at its peak and more than 70,000 deaths were being reported to the WHO every week,” he said in his opening speech at the Emergency Committee meeting in Geneva on Friday.

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“However, since the beginning of December, the number of weekly deaths reported worldwide has been increasing … last week, almost 40,000 deaths were reported to the WHO, more than half of them from China.

In all, more than 170,000 deaths have been reported over the past eight weeks, a number that in reality “is certainly much higher,” Tedros said, pointing to a massive global drop in testing, surveillance and reporting of the virus.

4:44 WHO determines state of pandemic

However, whether this reversal in progress means WHO will continue to maintain its highest alert level for SARS-CoV-2 remains unknown, partly because there are no official WHO criteria or procedures for determining when a public health emergency of international concern ends .

This differs from declaring an emergency because it must meet international health regulation criteria, including the need for an internationally coordinated response to a “sudden” public health threat that requires remedial action, says Maxwell Smith, an assistant professor in the School of Health Sciences of Western University.

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“Now that we’re entering the fourth year of this pandemic, it’s certainly not that sudden,” he said.

“Perhaps on this side it doesn’t make as much sense to still call this a public health emergency of international concern.”

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He said he was concerned that keeping the emergency labeling could reduce the global response to future virus outbreaks given the progress made in controlling the virus and the lack of an immediate crisis.

“If we keep the label, maybe people don’t really think it means much anymore,” he said.

1:36 WHO committee to discuss whether COVID-19 is still a global emergency

“Then next time we’re declaring something, a public health emergency of international concern, people might think, ‘Well, we shouldn’t take that too seriously because they’ve kept this with COVID for three years, and this does not change . So it’s nothing to really worry about.’”

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However, if the WHO decides to declare the emergency over, it will be important to ensure the public understands this does not mean COVID is “over”, he added.

“We need to be very clear that this doesn’t mean the disease doesn’t exist, that we still shouldn’t take action, or that we shouldn’t take it seriously.”

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dr Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Center for Infectious Diseases, agreed.

“As long as the label doesn’t say ‘COVID is gone,'” he said.

“It doesn’t change how we should deal with the fact that COVID is still around us and it doesn’t change the actions we need to take in any meaningful way.”

But changing the definition could have implications for some countries, Conway said, as it may have been the tool that unlocked resource allocation and forced measures to protect the public from COVID.

Therefore, lifting the deportation could alternatively serve to justify withdrawing resources from COVID measures, he added.

“I think we still have issues with vaccine injustice and whatever the World Health Organization says that will be part of their message – that we really need to keep vaccinating the world to prevent the next variants from emerging. That could be a game changer.”

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2:04 WHO: Omicron variant cases highlight global vaccine inequality

Regardless of what the WHO decides, Canadians should be aware that there is no “exit” for COVID just yet, as the virus continues to circulate, mutate and infect people in Canada — and will continue to do so for some time, Conway said.

Last week, according to federal COVID-19 data, there were 222 new deaths and nearly 14,000 reported cases of the virus in Canada.

“COVID will be with us for the measurable future,” said Conway.

“I think hopefully that’s going to be part of the message – that we’re out of the pandemic phase and we’re in a long-term endemic phase.”

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam declined to comment ahead of the WHO’s decision, but during a January 20 briefing she said she believes Canada is doing what it needs to do to monitor and respond to the virus.

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“In the coming year we need to continue to monitor the evolution of the virus, the Omicron variant, as it is still spreading (and) going through its mutations quite a bit around the world. I think we’re seeing that in real time,” she said.

The virus is likely to increase its immune-evasion properties as it continues to evolve, she added, meaning Canada may have to adjust its responses, including vaccine formulations.

“Whatever the decision of the Director-General of WHO, I think we just have to get on with what we’re doing now.”

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