COVID is still a global emergency but may be nearing an ‘inflection point,’ WHO says

Kindergarten students in Altadena wearing masks
Kindergarten students at Jackson STEM Dual Language Magnet Academy in Altadena wear masks in August 2021.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

COVID-19 remains a global health emergency, the World Health Organization’s chief said Monday, after a key advisory panel found that the pandemic may be nearing an “inflection point” where higher levels of immunity can lower coronavirus-related deaths.

Speaking at the opening of the WHO’s annual executive board meeting, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “there is no doubt that we’re in a far better situation now” than a year ago — when the highly transmissible Omicron variant was at its peak.

But Tedros warned that, in the last eight weeks, at least 170,000 people have died around the world in connection with the coronavirus. He called for full vaccination of at-risk groups, an increase in testing and early use of antivirals, an expansion of lab networks and a fight against misinformation about the pandemic.


“We remain hopeful that, in the coming year, the world will transition to a new phase in which we reduce hospitalizations and deaths to the lowest possible level,” he said.

Tedros’ comments came moments after his agency released findings of its emergency committee on the pandemic, which reported that some 13.1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered — with nearly 90% of health workers and more than 4 in 5 people over 60 years old having completed the first series of shots.

“The committee acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic may be approaching an inflection point,” the WHO said in a statement. Higher levels of immunity worldwide through vaccination or infection “may limit the impact” of the virus that causes COVID-19 on “morbidity and mortality,” the committee said.

L.A. County’s hard-won progress was attributed both to community immunity and tools that have blunted some of the coronavirus’ worst effects.

Jan. 27, 2023

But “there is little doubt that this virus will remain a permanently established pathogen in humans and animals for the foreseeable future,” the committee’s statement said. While Omicron versions of the virus are easily spread, “there has been a decoupling between infection and severe disease” compared to earlier variants.

Committee members cited “pandemic fatigue,” and the increasing public perception that COVID-19 isn’t as much of a risk as it once was, leading to people increasingly to ignore or disregard health measures like mask-wearing and social distancing.