is covid really over? WHO’s announcement sounds more like surrender than victory

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Experts warn that despite the official end of the Covid-19 public health emergency, its impact will persist with continuous infection waves and the threat of new variants. Health preparedness against future emerging microbes is inadequate, while long Covid and other pandemic effects continue to cause suffering and deaths globally.

Although the acute phase of the pandemic may have passed, experts agree that the virus’s effects will remain profound.

The global public emergency caused by Covid-19 may be officially over but the pandemic will still be with us for many years. Nor is it clear that governments have learned sufficiently from the outbreak to be ready to fight off new emerging microbes that could trigger worse calamities.

Health officials and scientists pointed out that immunity to the disease remains short-lived, while there has been considerable slackening in restrictions previously imposed to prevent people from infecting each other. Future waves of infections are therefore inevitable, they warned.

“One does not simply flick a switch and declare a pandemic as being over, especially one so damaging and of such scale as this one,” said Professor Stephen Griffin of Leeds University.

This view was backed by Professor Susan Michie, director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London. “Whether Covid-19 is labelled a global pandemic or not, many countries around the world are experiencing significant waves of infection, with thousands dying every week,” she said. “This will continue for the foreseeable future while there is no global effort to reduce Covid-19, and hence no global effort to reduce the likelihood of damaging new variants.”

Professor Benjamin Neuman of Texas A&M University was even more critical. “This bittersweet announcement seems more a white flag than a cause for celebration,” he said. “While there has been profound progress, this decision reflects the political reality of Covid more clearly than the medical situation.”

Many scientists told the Observer that the legacy of the pandemic – although it is past its peak – will be profound and long-lasting. Its cause, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is still killing one person every three minutes, while many survivors are suffering the debilitating impact of long Covid, which can leave them incapacitated for months.

As habitat destruction continues across the planet and air travel opens up more and more parts of the globe, new emerging viruses are likely to appear – and in some cases they may spread to humans.

We need to make sure we are better prepared for future health emergencies.

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