WHO Director-General Says COVID Remains Emergency, Could Still Surprise Us

The director-general of the World Health Organization on Wednesday said the coronavirus pandemic “remains a public health emergency of international concern.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO’s Emergency Committee on COVID-19 came to that conclusion during a meeting last week, and he shares that view. The committee also called on countries to make testing, therapeutics and vaccines more widely available to at-risk communities.

“While the global situation has obviously improved since the pandemic began, the virus continues to change, and there remain many risks and uncertainties,” the director-general said. “This pandemic has surprised us before and very well could again.”

The WHO first announced COVID-19 constitutes an emergency in January 2020.

Last week, the White House announced it was extending its own COVID-19 public health emergency declaration until January as the Biden administration braces for more cases of COVID-19 and flu this winter, defying Republicans who had been calling on the president to end it.

The emergency declaration has, among other things, allowed the White House to distribute treatments and testing for free, and issue emergency authorization of COVID-19 vaccines, according to The Associated Press.

U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently told Punchbowl News his party does not plan to approve any additional COVID-19 funding, which President Joe Biden has requested for vaccines and tests.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is seeing the emergence of new variants.

For the week ending on Oct. 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported BA.5 was still making up the majority of COVID-19 infections, but variants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 collectively accounted for over 11% of cases.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, said the speed with which these two variants are spreading is worrying.

“When you get variants like that, you look at what their rate of increase is as a relative proportion of the variants, and this has a pretty troublesome doubling time,” Fauci told CBS News.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, has been calling on people to get their updated booster vaccine, which targets the original COVID-19 strain as well as the omicron variant and BA.5 subvariant.

“Don’t wait. Get your new flu shot and get your new COVID shot today. If Americans did that, we could save hundreds of lives each day this winter,” Jha told White House reporters last week.

But Americans have reportedly been slow to take it up. As of Oct. 12, only 14.7% of those eligible had been boosted with the new bivalent vaccine, according to the CDC.