The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that Covid-19 was no longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. As per the WHO, the focus would now be on the long-term management of the infection.


When does a disease declared as the public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)?

  • A disease is declared as a PHEIC when it meets certain criteria established by the WHO. The criteria are as follows —
      • The disease must be serious, sudden, unusual, or unexpected.
      • There must be a significant risk of international spread.
      • There must be a significant risk of international travel/ trade restrictions.
      • There must be a significant risk of interference with international public health measures.
  • If a disease meets these criteria, the WHO Director-General may declare a PHEIC based on the advice of the Emergency Committee, a group of international experts in public health and other relevant fields.


What does the PHEIC declaration mean?

  • A PHEIC is the strongest global alert the WHO can formally make and, when it is declared, countries have a legal duty to respond quickly.
  • It is a formal declaration by the WHO that —
      • a disease or health event constitutes a public health risk to other countries through the international spread of disease, and
      • that a coordinated international response is required.
  • When a PHEIC is declared, it allows the WHO to mobilise resources and coordinate the global response to the event.
  • Examples of recent PHEIC declarations include the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.



  • WHO has declared that Covid-19 no longer represents a “global health emergency“.
  • The statement represents a major step towards ending the pandemic and comes three years after it first declared its highest level of alert over the virus.



  • The novel viral infection came to light after China reported a cluster of pneumonia cases with no known cause from Wuhan in December, 2019.
  • By the end of January 2020, nearly 10,000 cases had been reported, including more than 100 cases in 19 other countries.
  • WHO raised its highest level of alert and termed the infection a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.


Why did the WHO declare Covid-19 a PHEIC?

  • In 2020 and 2021, Covid-19 fulfilled all the conditions required for a disease to be declared as PHEIC.
    • Globally, the number of infections has crossed 76.5 crore, and caused 69.2 lakh deaths.
    • India has reported 4.43 crore cases and 5.3 lakh deaths due to Covid-19 so far.


Why has the WHO removed the designation now?

  • Nature of the virus known —
    • Over the last three years, doctors and researchers have figured out a lot —
      • methods of transmission;
      • who are at highest risk of severe disease and death;
      • better, cheaper, and point-of-care diagnostics;
      • a treatment protocol that works;
      • medicines to prevent viral replication that can help in reducing severity of the disease; and
      • most importantly, vaccines that can prevent severe disease.
  • Healthcare systems improved —
    • Governments have strengthened healthcare systems and rolled out vaccination drives.
      • Since many were infected and vaccinated, the population has developed a hybrid immunity that has been shown to offer better protection against future severe disease.
    • Health systems are no longer stressed; focus is back on non-Covid conditions that were neglected during 2020 and 2021.
    • So, for a good part of 2022 and now 2023 Covid-19 did not satisfy the conditions for a disease to be a public health emergency.


How will the WHO declaration change disease management?

  • Not much will change on ground — There are no lockdowns; international travel, restaurants, and cinemas are normal; and containment and control measures haven’t been needed for some time now. So, not much will change on ground with the WHO declaration.
  • Reduced surveillance —
      • At the moment, no practical impact to the common man, but surveillance may stop or reduce greatly.
          • There is need to look out only for variants that can be dangerous and disruptive.
          • The focus of surveillance has to be on hospitalised cases and the variants causing it.
          • Community level surveillance can be through detection of clusters.