A year ago the W.H.O. said that 15 million more people had died in the first two years of the pandemic than would have in normal times, a figure that laid bare how vastly countries had undercounted victims. In Egypt, excess deaths were roughly 12 times as great as the official Covid toll; in Pakistan, the figure was eight times as high. Developing nations bore the brunt of the devastation, with nearly eight million more people than expected dying in lower-middle-income nations by the end of 2021.
“Covid-19 has been so much more than a health crisis: it has caused severe social upheaval,” said Dr. Tedros, describing crippled economies, closed borders, shuttered schools and millions of people suffering in isolation.
“Covid-19 exposed and exacerbated political fault-lines within and between nations,” he said. “It has eroded trust between people, governments and institutions fueled by a torrent of myths and misinformation. It has laid bare the searing inequalities of our world, with the poorest and most vulnerable communities the hardest hit and the last to receive access to vaccines and other tools.”
The W.H.O. leaders who addressed the media about the ending of the emergency described the moment as an emotional one. “It didn’t have to be this way,” Dr. Van Kerkhove said. “We can’t forget the images of the hospital ICUs filled to capacity, the images of medical gloves filled with warm water holding the hands of our loved ones who died, with health care workers who ensured that they didn’t die alone. We can’t forget the fire pyres or the mass graves that were dug.”
Covid, she noted, continues to spread: The W.H.O. recorded 2.8 million new cases globally, and more than 17,000 deaths, from April 3 to 30, the most recent numbers available. As many countries have reduced their testing for Covid, these numbers also probably represent a significant undercount.
The W.H.O.’s emergency declaration was a crucial piece of guidance when it was made on Jan. 30, 2020, when just 213 people were known to have died of the virus. It signaled to the world that this new virus posed a threat outside of China, where it emerged, and gave countries critical buttressing to impose potentially unpopular or disruptive public health measures.
The virus that jumped into humans in late 2019 proved to be an unpredictable adversary, mutating swiftly and significantly in ways that allowed it to resurge and devastate countries just as they thought the worst was past.