The COVID-19 pandemic no longer constitutes a global health emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday, though it also warned that the threat remained.

It is "with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency", World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters, as quoted by the AFP news agency.

The move came after the WHO's independent emergency committee on the COVID crisis agreed it no longer merited the organization’s highest alert level and "advised that it is time to transition to long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic".

Tedros also stressed that the danger is not over, estimating that COVID-19 had killed "at least 20 million" people -- about three times the nearly seven million deaths officially recorded.

"This virus is here to stay. It is still killing, and it's still changing," he said.

"The worst thing any country could do now is to use this news as a reason to let down its guard, to dismantle the systems it has built, or to send the message to its people that COVID-19 is nothing to worry about," added Tedros.

The UN health agency first declared the so-called public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) over the crisis on January 30, 2020.

The announcement came weeks after the mysterious new viral disease was first detected in China and when fewer than 100 cases and no deaths had been reported outside that country.

However, it was only after Tedros described the worsening COVID situation as a pandemic on March 11, 2020, that many countries woke up to the danger.

"One of the greatest tragedies of COVID-19 is that it didn't have to be this way," Tedros said on Friday, decrying that "a lack of coordination, a lack of equity and a lack of solidarity" meant "lives were lost that should not have been".

"We must promise ourselves and our children and grandchildren that we will never make those mistakes again."

He clarified that, even though COVID deaths globally have plunged 95 percent since January, the disease remains a major killer.

Last week alone "COVID-19 claimed a life every three minutes", Tedros said, "and that's just the deaths we know about."

(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)