Is pandemic entering endgame with Omicron?

Mashfiq Mizan | Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Two years into the pandemic and with the surge of the highly infectious Omicron variant, people are despairingly asking when or even if this pandemic is ever going to end.

The good news is experts confirm like most pandemics Covid will end too. 

However, they are divided on when the time will come, though many believe that Omicron is the beginning of Covid’s end. 

Endemicity means the virus will keep spreading across the global population for years, but its severity will come down to relatively manageable levels, meaning it will end up more like seasonal flu than a disease with apocalyptic features. 

For an infectious disease to be classed in the endemic phase, the rate of infections has to stabilise more or less over time, rather than spiking unexpectedly. 

In layman's terms, it means that an infected person on average can infect another person. As data reveals, we are nowhere near that situation right now. 

The highly transmissible omicron variant means each infected person infects more than one person, resulting in exploding caseloads across the globe.

Rather we can ask ourselves the following question - does omicron push endemicity farther off into the future? Or could it actually speed up our path to endemicity by infecting so much of the population so swiftly that we more quickly develop a layer of natural immunity? 

With omicron surging right now and many governments reimposing stricter precautions as a result, it’s clear we’re still in crisis mode. 

Even though omicron so far seems to result in milder disease than previous variants, a massive increase in cases could still lead to a big increase in hospitalisations and deaths. That could further stress health care systems that are already in dire straits. 

Unfortunately, this might mean that omicron certainly has the potential to delay endemicity. 

However, the positive side is the huge surge in Covid positivity rate is building up a herd of population-level immunity, which will be crucial in terms of muting future waves. 

Vaccinations and boosters are also contributing to a significant immunity wall that’s being built. However, the key determinant of when the pandemic ends is how long it will take to make vaccines accessible around the world. 

What do experts say

Prof Julian Hiscox, chairman in infection and global health at the University of Liverpool believes that it is now the beginning of the end. 

"I think life in 2022 will be almost back to before the pandemic," quoted BBC. 

Dr Elisabetta Groppelli, a virologist at St George's, University of London was quoted by the BBC saying, "Endemicity was written into this virus.” 

"I am very optimistic. We'll soon be in a situation where the virus is circulating, we will take care of people at risk, but for anybody else, we accept they will catch it - and your average person will be fine." 

However, many scientists are not so optimistic. Anthony Fauci, the top medical adviser to the US president, said it’s too soon to say whether the Omicron variant will herald a shift in the COVID-19 pandemic to endemic. 

“It’s an open question as to whether or not Omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination everyone is hoping for,” Fauci said at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda online conference. 

World Health Organization’s (WHO) head Dr Tedros pointed out, Omicron is still a lethal virus, hospitalising or killing millions of people. So this is not the time to drop our guard. 

Predicting how a virus might evolve is tricky, but even if Omicron turns out to be a less severe variant, there’s no reason to be assured that a more severe one won’t emerge shortly. 

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