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An Indian woman, wearing a mask, talks on her mobile phone outside the H1N1 swine flu screening centre at the Government Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad on August 7, 2010. On august 10, 2010 the World Health Organisation was assessing whether it should lift the swine flu pandemic alert after scientists presented their latest advice on the waning outbreak.

NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images

The World Health Organization declared Tuesday that the H1N1 pandemic is over, saying it has "largely run its course."

Director-General Margaret Chan said the global health body has assessed what is happening around the world, and has decided to move into the post-pandemic phase.

"As we enter the post-pandemic period this does not mean the H1N1 virus has gone away," Dr. Chan said in a conference call from Geneva. She said that based on experiences with past pandemics, the H1N1 virus is likely to take on the behaviour of seasonal influenza virus and circulate for some years to come.

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The WHO has come under criticism for declaring H1N1 pandemic, with critics saying the organization provoked unnecessary fear with a virus that turned out to be much milder than expected.

But Dr. Chan defended the WHO's action, saying the June 11 pandemic announcement was based on epidemiological and other health criteria. "That was the right call," she said, adding the world was lucky the virus was milder and that an effective vaccine was developed quickly.

The WHO's announcement followed a meeting Tuesday morning by an emergency committee that advises Dr. Chan. The committee is a panel of external and as yet unidentified experts who have advised Ms. Chan on major matters related to the pandemic.

In many parts of the world, the WHO's announcement will not come as a surprise. In Canada, the H1N1 virus peaked last fall and there has been virtually no flu activity since the start of this year.

Since H1N1 was declared a pandemic last year, it has claimed more than 18,000 lives worldwide, although it has remained far milder than expected. The health-care system in Canada wasn't pushed beyond capacity.

There were cracks in the country's response, however.

There was confusion as to when the vaccine would be available, and then when it did become available, the vaccination rate was much lower than expected. Less than half - 41 per cent - of Canadians lined up to receive the vaccine.

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Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Arlene King, acknowledged recently that public-health officials neglected to properly organize a mass immunization program.

Public-health officials and medical experts, taking stock of the country's response to the pandemic, point to three reasons for the low vaccination rates: a failure to communicate the risks of the pandemic and the safety of the adjuvant; sequencing guidelines that gave priority to high-risk groups and were not followed by some provinces, confusing the public; and Ottawa's inability to inform provinces fully of the weekly vaccine supply, which stalled planning.

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