The World Health Organization said Friday that COVID-19 no longer qualifies as a global emergency, marking a symbolic end to the devastating coronavirus pandemic that triggered once-unthinkable lockdowns, upended economies worldwide and killed at least 7 million people worldwide. WHO said that even though the emergency phase was over, the pandemic hasn’t come to an end, noting recent spikes in cases in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The U.N. health agency says that thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week.”It’s with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “That does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat,” he said, adding he wouldn’t hesitate to reconvene experts to reassess the situation should COVID-19 “put our world in peril.” Tedros said the pandemic had been on a downward trend for more than a year, acknowledging that most countries have already returned to life before COVID-19. He bemoaned the damage that COVID-19 had done to the global community, saying the virus had shattered businesses and plunged millions into poverty. “COVID has changed our world and it has changed us,” he said, warning that the risk of new variants still remained. When the U.N. health agency first declared the coronavirus to be an international crisis on Jan. 30, 2020, it hadn’t yet been named COVID-19 and there were no major outbreaks beyond China. More than three years later, the virus has caused an estimated 764 million cases globally and about 5 billion people have received at least one dose of vaccine.When Tedros declared COVID-19 to be an emergency in 2020, he said his greatest fear was the virus’ potential to spread in countries with weak health systems he described as “ill-prepared.” In fact, some of the countries that suffered the worst COVID-19 death tolls were previously judged to be the best-prepared for a pandemic, including the U.S. and Britain. According to WHO data, the number of deaths reported in Africa account for just 3% of the global total. WHO made its decision to lower its highest level of alert on Friday, after convening an expert group on Thursday. The U.N. agency doesn’t “declare” pandemics, but first used the term to describe the outbreak in March 2020, when the virus had spread to every continent except Antarctica, long after many other scientists had said a pandemic was already underway.