The World Health Organization on Thursday said that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, contradicting controversial remarks from President Joe Biden from earlier this week.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that one of the most frequent questions he has been asked while at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City this week is: “Where do we stand? Is the pandemic over?”
“We have spent 2 1/2 years in a long, dark tunnel, and we are just beginning to glimpse the light at the end of that tunnel,” Tedros said at a press briefing. “But it is still a long way off, and the tunnel is still dark with many obstacles that could trip us up if we don’t take care. We all need hope that we can – and we will – get to the end of the tunnel and put the pandemic behind us. But we’re not there yet.”
Tedros’ remarks come after he said last week that the end to the COVID-19 pandemic is “in sight.” But Biden in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired on Sunday took it a leap further, saying that the pandemic is “over.”
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“The pandemic is over,” Biden said. “We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it, but the pandemic is over. If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.”
On Tuesday, he attempted to clarify his remarks.
“The pandemic is, quote, ‘over,’ as I got criticized for saying,” Biden said at a Democratic National Committee event. “But it basically is not where it was.”
Tedros on Thursday seemed in agreement with the second part of Biden’s remarks, saying that “we’re in a better position than we’ve ever been.”
“The number of weekly deaths continues to decline, and are now just 10% of what they were at the peak in January 2021,” he said. “Two-thirds of the world’s population is vaccinated, including three-quarters of health workers and older people. In most countries, restrictions have ended and life looks much like it did before the pandemic.”
But he qualified that statement by adding that “10,000 deaths a week is 10,000 too many when most of these deaths could be prevented.”
WHO doesn’t decide whether an outbreak is a pandemic or not. Instead, it decides if events are a public health emergency of international concern, which it declared for COVID-19 in January 2020.
Asked whether there are criteria for how to revoke such an emergency declaration, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, said that “is under active discussion.”
“We’re working on ending the emergency in every country,” Van Kerkhove said. “As this is a global problem, we need to end this at a global level.”