Is the COVID-19 pandemic over? – National Geographic UK

For Topol, that judgment has to be based on the trajectory of the pandemic. “I look at where we were in summer 2021—we were down to 12,000 [daily] cases in the U.S. and deaths were just over 200,” he says. “If we held there,” Topol says, he’d be comfortable declaring the pandemic phase over. “But we’re nowhere near that.” Topol also fears that new variants may cause another wave of cases and hospitalisations enabling the pandemic to drag on.

To Lone Simonsen, an epidemiologist at Roskilde University in Denmark, the seasonality of outbreaks, in addition to fewer deaths, could help indicate when the pandemic might end. If case numbers soar in the summer, when the virus has fewer opportunities to spread, “we’re still in the pandemic phase,” she says. That was the case in 2021, when cases were driven by the Delta variant and this past summer with Omicron. So, for Simonsen, it’s a wait and see.

But Denmark and other European countries with high levels of vaccination scrapped most pandemic mandates and restrictions months ago, as COVID-19 hasn’t been causing severe illness or overwhelming hospitals at a scale that has spurred wider action – though the effects of hospital backlog in countries like the U.K. have had their own impact. Additionally, long COVID remains a concern, Simonsen says.

Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security argues that the global pandemic phase is largely over given that hundreds of millions of people have already been infected by the virus, there are vaccines and treatments that can prevent severe illness, and COVID-19 is unlikely to completely disrupt the healthcare system like it once did. “It doesn’t mean all of a sudden things go back to 2019. It doesn’t mean that COVID-19 disappears, and all action stops,” he says. “It means there is going to be a baseline number of cases, hospitalisations, and deaths.”

What those acceptable levels of hospitalisations and deaths may be is a political decision, says David Heymann, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and former head of WHO’s communicable diseases cluster.

Saying it is over when it isn’t

Nuzzo and others worry that statements like the pandemic is over may be a disservice.

With the U.S. rolling out an Omicron specific booster, “I’m really worried this is going to send out a signal to millions of Americans who are at the risk of severe illness that they may not need to get boosted,” Nuzzo says. “That’s really, really unfortunate.”

Topol worries that it could also undermine the motivation and funding to ramp up development of better COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, jeopardising the health of millions who are immunocompromised or at the risk of developing long COVID.

This isn’t the right time to make bold assertions about the end of the pandemic, he says. “But it’s time to be bold about accelerating to a point where we look to say, we nailed it, we did it.”

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