Statement on the fourth meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

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The fourth meeting of the Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) took place on Friday, 31 July 2020 from 12:00 to 17:45 Geneva time (CEST).

Proceedings of the meeting

Members and advisors of the Emergency Committee were convened by video conference.

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The Director-General welcomed the Committee, highlighted the advances in global understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus since the declaration of the public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) on 30 January 2020, and outlined key areas where further attention by the Emergency Committees is needed.

Representatives of the legal department and the Department of Compliance, Risk Management, and Ethics (CRE) briefed the members on their roles and responsibilities. The Ethics Officer from CRE provided the members and advisers with an overview of the WHO Declaration of Interest process. The members and advisers were made aware of their individual responsibility to disclose to WHO, in a timely manner, any interests of a personal, professional, financial, intellectual or commercial nature that may give rise to a perceived or direct conflict of interest. They were additionally reminded of their duty to maintain the confidentiality of the meeting discussions and the work of the committee. Each member who was present was surveyed and no conflicts of interest were identified.

The Secretariat turned the meeting over to the Chair, Professor Didier Houssin. Professor Houssin also welcomed the Committee and reviewed the objectives and agenda of the meeting. 

The WHO Regional Emergency Directors and the Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme (WHE) provided regional and the global situation overview. WHO continues to assess the global risk level of COVID-19 to be very high. Dr David Heymann, chair of the WHE Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Hazards (STAG-IH), presented on national best practices and global COVID-19 experiences. Dr Johanna Jordaan presented an overview of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART)’s report and public health focused recommendations.

The Committee expressed appreciation for WHO and partners’ COVID-19 pandemic response efforts. The Committee noted progress made on the Temporary Recommendations issued on 1 May 2020 and examined additional areas that require further attention. The Committee highlighted the anticipated lengthy duration of this COVID-19 pandemic, noting the importance of sustained community, national, regional, and global response efforts.  

The Committee encouraged all individuals, in particular young people, and communities to continue to play an active role in preventing and controlling transmission of COVID-19. The Committee recognized that State Parties should enable and support communities and individuals and thus build trust in governments’ response measures.

After ensuing discussion, the Committee unanimously agreed that the pandemic still constitutes a public health emergency of international concern and offered advice to the Director-General.

The Director-General declared that the outbreak of COVID-19 continues to constitute a PHEIC. He accepted the advice of the Committee to WHO and issued the Committee’s advice to States Parties as Temporary Recommendations under the IHR (2005). 

The Emergency Committee will be reconvened within three months, at the discretion of the Director-General. The Director-General thanked the Committee for its work.

Advice to the WHO Secretariat

  1. Continue to coordinate and mobilize global and regional multilateral organizations, partners and networks for robust political commitment and resourcing of COVID-19 pandemic preparedness and response, including for development of vaccines and therapeutics.
  2. Provide nuanced, pragmatic guidance on criteria for appropriate COVID-19 response activities to reduce the risk of response fatigue in the context of socio-economic pressures.
  3. Continue to support State Parties and partners in conducting active and community-based COVID-19 surveillance, through technical and operational resources, such as guidance, tools, and trainings on case definitions and identification, contact tracing, and death certifications; encourage State Parties to continue reporting relevant data to WHO through platforms such as the Global Influenza and Surveillance Response System.  
  4. Accelerate research into remaining SARS-CoV-2 critical unknowns, such as the animal source and potential animal reservoirs, and improve understanding of the epidemiology and severity of COVID-19 (including its long-term health effects; viral dynamics such as modes of transmission, shedding, potential mutations; immunity and correlates of protection; co-infection; as well as risk factors and vulnerabilities) and the effectiveness of public health measures.
  5. Continue to work with partners to counter mis/disinformation and infodemics by developing and disseminating clear, tailored messaging on the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects; encourage and support individuals and communities to follow recommended public health and social measures.
  6. Support diagnostics, safe and effective therapeutics and vaccines’ rapid and transparent development (including in developing countries) and equitable access through the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator; support all countries to implement the necessary clinical trials and to prepare for the rollout of therapeutics and vaccines.
  7. Work with partners to revise WHO’s travel health guidance to reinforce evidence-informed measures consistent with the provisions of the IHR (2005) to avoid unnecessary interference with international travel; proactively and regularly share information on travel measures to support State Parties’ decision-making for resuming international travel.
  8. Support State Parties, particularly vulnerable countries, in strengthening their essential health services and accompanying supply chains as well as preparing for and responding to concurrent outbreaks, such as seasonal influenza.

Temporary recommendations to State Parties

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  1. Share best practices, including from intra-action reviews, with WHO; apply lessons learned from countries that are successfully re-opening their societies (including businesses, schools, and other services) and mitigating resurgence of COVID-19.
  2. Support multilateral regional and global organizations and encourage global solidarity in COVID-19 response.
  3. Enhance and sustain political commitment and leadership for national strategies and localized response activities driven by science, data, and experience; engage all sectors in addressing the impacts of the pandemic.
  4. Continue to enhance capacity for public health surveillance, testing, and contact tracing. 
  5. Share timely information and data with WHO on COVID-19 epidemiology and severity, response measures, and on concurrent disease outbreaks through platforms such as the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System.
  6. Strengthen community engagement, empower individuals, and build trust by addressing mis/disinformation and providing clear guidance, rationales, and resources for public health and social measures to be accepted and implemented.  
  7. Engage in the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, participate in relevant trials, and prepare for safe and effective therapeutic and vaccine introduction.
  8. Implement, regularly update, and share information with WHO on appropriate and proportionate travel measures and advice, based on risk assessments; implement necessary capacities, including at points of entry, to mitigate the potential risks of international transmission of COVID-19 and to facilitate international contact tracing.
  9. Maintain essential health services with sufficient funding, supplies, and human resources; prepare health systems to cope with seasonal influenza, other concurrent disease outbreaks, and natural disasters. 
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