Public health experts at the World Health Organization have begun discussing how and when to call an end to the global Covid-19 crisis, according to people familiar with the matter. The WHO isn’t currently considering such a declaration, according to the people. While cases have fallen in many places, fatalities have spiked in Hong Kong , and this week China reported more than 1,000 new daily cases for the first time in two years. Instead, the discussions at the Geneva-based agency are focusing on what conditions would eventually signal that the public health emergency declared on January 30, 2020, is over, said the people, who asked not to be named because the meetings are not public. Such a declaration would not only be a meaningful symbolic step, but also add momentum to the rollback of many pandemic-era public health policies. Many nations around the world have already taken steps to return to more normal social behaviours, relaxing masking and quarantine guidelines, and opening borders to travel. Still, many countries in Asia are reporting record levels of transmission, and in Germany cases recently rebounded to near record levels. Researchers have also warned that even if Covid-19 cases fall to lower levels, the disease is still likely to cause thousands of deaths annually, not unlike other endemic illnesses such as malaria and tuberculosis. And the potential for new, dangerous variants is unpredictable. Global Covid-19 death toll may be 18 million, three times official tally The WHO’s discussions could have implications for drug makers such as Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co. that have agreed to allow generic competition to their Covid-19 treatments until the pandemic ends. Vaccine makers including AstraZeneca Plc have said they will keep prices for their products low until the pandemic ends, without specifying what the benchmark for that would be. The WHO has been cautious in the past to declare an end to global health emergencies and disease outbreaks. Like the declaration of the emergency, the decision to rescind would ultimately be made by Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus after consultation with experts. Many countries no longer rely on the WHO’s guidance, said David Heymann, a former WHO and US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist who advises the WHO on outbreaks. They’re not ignoring the WHO, but they’re depending more on national and regional scientific advisory groups David Heymann, epidemiologist “They’re not ignoring the WHO, but they’re depending more on national and regional scientific advisory groups,” Heymann said in an interview. The role of these groups has evolved since the days of the Sars outbreak in 2002-04 when the WHO’s pronouncements on travel and trade were strictly heeded. Today, countries have more up-to-date information and surveillance. A key metric for countries considering exiting emergency status is population immunity, Heymann said, meaning the proportion of people who have some antibodies to the virus either from immunisation, infection, or both. Researchers estimate that about 98 per cent of the UK population has some immunity to the coronavirus that may prevent severe illness, he said. It is not the same level of antibody protection needed to achieve herd immunity, which prevents any virus spread, he said. Herd immunity looks extremely unlikely with the coronavirus because current vaccines do not prevent infections and infections do not ward off repeat bouts of the virus, he said. In the US, about 98 per cent of the population lives in counties where masking requirements for indoor public spaces are not necessary, according to the CDC. However, concerns are rising regarding the BA. 2 variant, a version of Omicron that has already spread widely in some countries in Europe.