Is the public just having a delusion that the COVID-19 pandemic is coming to an end? Experts voiced such concern recently following the news of several governments lifting their restrictions despite the ongoing pandemic.
When Will COVID End?
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel sparked an internal commotion in the medical community when he claimed that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic was already in sight. In an interview with CNBC earlier this week, he said it’s “reasonable” to think that we are approaching the final stages of the pandemic.
“There’s an 80% chance that as omicron evolves or SARS-CoV-2 virus evolves, we are going to see less and less virulent viruses,” he confidently added. For the remaining 20%, he predicted that a new mutation could arrive, and it could be more virulent than the omicron strain.
Such a statement sparked hope among the public that the world could finally break free from the clutches of the global health crisis. It also mirrored the recent changes in pandemic restrictions as more and more governments are becoming braver in their steps to fully reopening their economies.
The public is already tired of living restrictively after what seemed to be two years of health uncertainties. Hence, it was only a matter of time until government officials made big moves to bring back normalcy in people’s lives.
Sweden, Denmark, and Norway have already abolished most of their COVID restrictions. The United Kingdom is following suit within this month. Canada, Europe, and certain parts of the United States are also actively moving to lift their restrictions.
An Endemic Delusion
With all the things happening simultaneously, it may seem that the world is ready to move on and not let the novel coronavirus get in the way of people living freely. But medical experts said that it’s too soon to put a deadline on the pandemic.
In the United States alone, hospitals and healthcare facilities continue to record high numbers of infections and deaths. The latest statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that even though cases have significantly diminished compared to the previous months, “community spread [remains] high.”
For Scripps Research infectious disease researcher Kristian Andersen, the assertions that the COVID-19 pandemic is ending and transitioning into an endemic could be problematic for everyone. “Endemic delusion is probably what captures it the best,” he described the situation to Science.org.
Andersen was especially critical of the recent moves of his home country, Denmark, after its national government announced that COVID-19 would no longer be categorized as a “socially critical disease” starting this month. According to him, such a move did not make sense because COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations are still a big problem there.
University College London health services researcher Christina Pagel said government leaders appear to be ignoring what’s best for the public’s safety as “back to normal” messages have started to spread on social media and other platforms.
Playing Catch With The Virus
Other experts who haven’t publicly spoken up amid the rapid lifting of the restrictions are also encouraging governments to step up their COVID-19 mitigation efforts instead of scaling them back. They believe that a more aggressive approach to bringing vaccines to the unvaccinated, distributing rapid tests, and making treatments more accessible would make a big difference.
Since there is still no guarantee on when exactly the pandemic would end, scientists feel it would be best to anticipate the next mutation instead of blindly accepting that it’s time to live with the coronavirus and be unprepared for what’s to come next.
Yale School of Medicine professor of epidemiology Akiko Iwasaki said this is like humankind playing catch with the virus. In the long run, the medical community could be better equipped and well-prepared for the newer variants.
“The virus keeps raising that bar for us every few months. When we were celebrating the amazing effectiveness of booster shots against the delta variant, the bar was already being raised by omicron. It seems like we are constantly trying to catch up with the virus,” Iwasaki told Bloomberg.
Theoretically speaking, experts believe there will come a time when COVID-19 would no longer be overwhelming hospitals and trigging restrictions. But for now, the questions of “When” or “How” this will happen remain. As such, it’s too soon to assume that the situation is already under control.