The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared an end to the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said at a press conference on Friday in Geneva that WHO’s emergency committee had met the previous day and recommended ending the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the highest alert level WHO can declare, which has been in effect since 30 January 2020.  “It’s therefore with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” Tedros said.

He emphasized that this declaration does not mean COVID-19 is no longer a threat. “Last week, COVID-19 claimed a life every 3 minutes and that’s just the deaths we know about,” he said, emphasizing that thousands of people around the world are still being treated for the disease in intensive care units and millions of others are dealing with the prolonged aftereffects of COVID-19 infection. “This virus is here to stay,” he added. “It’s still killing and it’s still changing. The risk remains of new variants emerging that cause new surges in cases.”

“It’s the right move,” Lawrence Gostin, director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, tells ScienceInsider. “The world has moved on from the emergency phase of the pandemic and it is wise of WHO to do the same by ending the [PHEIC].”

Although the declaration will not have a big impact on WHO’s powers, it has enormous cultural and political symbolism, Gostin says. “It does send a powerful signal that the emergency phase of the greatest pandemic in our lifetimes is over.”

Since the start of the pandemic 3 years ago, WHO has recorded close to 7 million deaths from COVID-19, though the real death toll from the pandemic may be three times that. A few thousand deaths are still being reported to the agency every week and some models estimate that excess mortality is still at about 10,000 deaths a day worldwide.

Today’s WHO declaration comes as the public health emergency in the United States over the pandemic also prepares to expire on 11 May.