The world has never been in a better position to end the COVID-19 pandemic, said the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus.

“We’re not there yet. But the end is in sight,” he told journalists at a virtual press conference.

This is the UN agency’s most optimistic assessment since it declared an international emergency in January 2020 and began describing COVID-19 as a pandemic three months later, informs the Reuters.

The virus has killed nearly 6.5 million people and infected 606 million, shaking the global economy and overwhelming health systems. The spread of vaccines and treatments has helped stop deaths and hospitalizations, and the Omicron variant, which appeared at the end of last year, causes less severe diseases. The death rate from COVID-19 last week was the lowest since March 2020, the UN agency reports.

Back on Wednesday, the Director General of the WHO once again called on countries to remain vigilant and compared the pandemic to a marathon race.

“Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.”

Countries should carefully review their policies and strengthen them against COVID-19 and future viruses, says Ghebreyesus. He also urged countries to vaccinate 100% of their high-risk groups and continue testing for the virus. The WHO said that countries should maintain sufficient stocks of medical equipment and medical workers.

“We expect there to be future waves of infections, potentially at different time points throughout the world caused by different subvariants of Omicron or even different variants of concern,” said a senior WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove.

With more than 1 million deaths this year alone, the pandemic is causing a worldwide emergency.

“TThe COVID-19 summer wave, driven by Omicron BA.4 and BA.5, showed that the pandemic is not yet over as the virus continues to circulate in Europe and beyond,” said a representative of the European Commission.

According to a WHO spokesman, the next meeting of the organization’s experts, which will decide whether the pandemic is still a public health emergency, will take place in October.

“It’s probably fair to say most of the world is moving beyond the emergency phase of the pandemic response,” said Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University.

Governments are now looking at how best to control COVID-19 as part of their routine health care and surveillance, he said. Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States have approved vaccines that target the Omicron variant as well as the original virus as countries prepare to launch winter vaccination campaigns.