Two years on and there’s still one question -- when does the pandemic end? With two waves causing millions of deaths across the world, the Omicron variant seemed to be a lighter one. However, that still meant that the pandemic is nowhere to go. With various reports suggesting that the pandemic is here to stay, the World Health Organisation is also suggesting something on the similar lines. As we enter the third year of the pandemic, WHO officials are now discussing how and when to call an end to the global Covid-19 crisis. According to a report in Bloomberg, although fatalities due to Covid-19 have plummeted, cases seem to spike across various parts of the world, with China reporting the worst in its two years.
The situation has taken such a turn, where countries are now considering to start ‘living with Covid’. However, scientists have said that the constant emergence of new variants and the unequal vaccination will make it difficult for normalcy to return any sooner. In a recent statement, the United Nations (UN) Health Agency said that they have been currently focusing on what conditions would eventually signal that the public health emergency declared on January 30, 2020, is over. “Such a declaration would be not just a meaningful symbolic step, it would add momentum to the rollback of many pandemic-era public health policies,” it stated.
According to a report by AFP, the WHO had said that the "acute phase" of the pandemic could end by the middle of this year. However, it would only be possible if around 70 per cent of the world is vaccinated.
“Certainly COVID will be with us forever,” Dr Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Public Health, added. “We’re never going to be able to eradicate or eliminate Covid, so we have to identify our goals.” At some point, the World Health Organization will determine when enough countries have tamped down their COVID-19 cases sufficiently — or at least, hospitalizations and deaths — to declare the pandemic officially over. Exactly what that threshold will be isn’t clear.
Determining when a disease outbreak has ended is even more difficult for global health agencies, given the history of pandemics.
At some point, the World Health Organization will determine when enough countries have tamped down their COVID-19 cases sufficiently — or at least, hospitalizations and deaths — to declare the pandemic officially over. Exactly what that threshold will be isn’t clear. Even when that happens, some parts of the world still will struggle — especially low-income countries that lack enough vaccines or treatments — while others more easily transition to what scientists call an “endemic” state.
Spain has become one of the nations to start calling Covid an endemic and stated that humanity can survive the milder seasonal outbreaks. However, some scientists worry governments could use the somewhat vague term to justify lifting life-saving measures.
According to evolutionary virologist, Ariz Katzourakis, from the University of Oxford, the word 'endemic' has become one of the most misused of the pandemic. "A disease can be endemic and both widespread and deadly," he wrote in the journal Nature, where he stated that malaria killed more than 600,000 people in 2020, while 1.5 million died of tuberculosis.
The UK government’s scientific advisory body, SAGE has laid out other scenarios beyond the terms ‘pandemic’ or ‘endemic’. These scenarios have been predicted for the years to come. Under the "reasonable best-case" scenario, there will be smaller regional or seasonal outbreaks, as the higher Covid numbers lead to fewer flu cases, reports AFP.
Under the worst-case scenario, it is said that the unpredictable emerging variants will build into repeated damaging virus waves, requiring the return of harsh restrictions. The different outcomes hinge on two key uncertainties: the possible emergence of new variants, and the ability of vaccines to protect against the disease in the long term.(with agency inputs)