Sajid Javid, UK’s health care secretary, warns COVID could be here forever. Many European countries are calling for a new approach, claiming the infections must not be dealt with as a health emergency but an illness. So, is the pandemic approaching its end? Is it time we learn to live with COVID?
Pandemic to Endemic
After two years of multiple crippling waves, strict lockdowns, and millions dead, several countries are ready to leave the pandemic in the past. The new Omicron wave is breaking infection records across the world, but the hospitalization need and deaths are way down compared to previous waves, especially for vaccinated individuals.
The low mortality is sparking hope in many health care experts that COVID infections can now be treated as an endemic. We have learned to live with many illnesses in the past, and officials are proposing to add COVID to the list.
Despite the skyrocketing infections, many countries are easing the curbs, while countries like Ireland and the U.K. are dropping most of the restrictions.
Contrary to the European countries, the World Health Organization is declaring the pandemic far from over. According to the officials, the death rate of the current variant is still too high to go easy on the infections.
“Now is not the time to give up on the strategy. The virus (omicron) is circulating at a very intense level around the world.”Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, American epidemiologist
The Forever Pandemic
Omicron complicates the question of when this pandemic will end, but pandemics do eventually end. Yet coexisting with a virus as contagious as the Coronavirus would not be as easy as flipping a switch.
As an exhausted world tries to stem the spread of the ultra-contagious omicron mutant, cases are at an all-time high and causing chaos. However, this time we won’t have to start from scratch.
Although vaccines do not always prevent mild infections, they offer strong protection against serious illness. Omicron does not seem to be as dangerous as some earlier variants. Those who survive it will have a chance to bolster their defense against other variations of the virus that are still circulating. And perhaps the next mutant will emerge, too.
It won’t be long before the World Health Organization determines when enough countries have curb COVID-19 cases sufficiently – or at least, deaths and hospitalization have fallen – to officially deem the pandemic over. However, the exact threshold is unclear.
In that case, some parts of the world will still struggle – particularly those without enough vaccines or treatments – while other parts will be able to transition more easily to what researchers call an “endemic” state.
Could More Deadly Variants Emerge?
The coronavirus is not certain of remaining less deadly: It might evolve again and become more dangerous. Scientists in Sweden share that concern, writing in an opinion piece for POLITICO: “Allowing large amounts of contamination to circulate is like opening Pandora’s box of unpleasant surprises. The last variant we have seen is hardly the last.”
According to Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, there is always the risk of a dangerous mutation. However, he noted that the high level of immunity in the U.K. should guide a different approach. We should perform our own risk assessments instead of relying on top-down decision-making methods like lockdowns. You could, for instance, test yourself before leaving the house for dinner, or avoid potentially infected people if there is a risk, says David.
“The pandemic is no where near over. With the incredible growth of Omicron globaly, new variants are likely to emerge.”Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General WHO
Fighting & Living with the COVID
Despite the fact that industrialized nations actively aim to protect their populations by boosting their vaccinations for adults and extending vaccinations to children, we can no longer expect to inject people every four to six months in the face of new variants. To counter this threat, vaccinations will have to be provided annually – preferably with products that are effective against all types of Coronaviruses – and repeated exposure to an infection that is certain to become endemic sooner or later.
In the world “living with COVID,” governments and regulators should encourage the innovation of new vaccine technologies that will complement Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer’s mRNA products duopoly. Furthermore, more investment should be made in antiviral drugs that might play a greater role in suppressing symptoms among infected people.
At the beginning of 2020, we might have had a slim chance of eliminating Covid-19, but they are long gone. Controlling the pandemic has been justified so far as a global health emergency; however, they cannot continue forever.
Too many collateral damages would result, including harm to social cohesion, mental health and wellbeing, and the global economy. Sars-Cov-2 and its descendants will require more resilience in the coming year so that the most vulnerable can be protected while causing less disruption.