US extends Covid public health emergency as Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 spreads; how will it benefit Americans?

Washington: The highly transmissible XBB.1.5 Omicron sub-variant has stoked concern that the US may face another wave of hospitalisation from the disease this winter. Fearing this, the Biden administration has extended the Covid-19 public health emergency until April.

What does this mean?

Extending the Covid-19 pandemic’s status as a public health emergency will enable Americans to continue receiving free tests, vaccines and treatments.

The Covid-19 public health emergency was first declared during the Trump administration in January 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic began. Since then, it has been renewed every 90 days or a quarter. However, it was due to end this week.

“The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency remains in effect, and as HHS committed to earlier, we will provide a 60-day notice to states before any possible termination or expiration,” a spokesperson for the Health and Human Services Department said.

Has public health emergency helped the US?

The Covid-19 public health emergency declaration has had a major impact in the past three years on the US health-care system. It has protected public health insurance coverage for millions, provided hospitals with greater flexibility to respond to patient surges and expanded telehealth.

Also, with the increased availability of Covid vaccines and medications, casualties due to coronavirus in the country has declined.

In November, officials in Biden administration had said that the possibility of a winter surge in Covid cass and need for more time to transition to a private market for the sale of tests, vaccines and treatments were the two key factors that contributed to the decision not the end the public health emergency status in January.

What happens if it expires?

If the Biden administration plans to expire the Covid-19 public health emergency in the US, private insurance and government health plans will take on healthcare costs for most Americans.

Also, hospitals will no longer have flexibility in how they deploy staff, add beds and care for patients when there’s a surge in admissions. It would also massively affect expanded role pharmacies have played in administering vaccines during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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