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Will Covid continue all the way through 2022? A look at history and the future

Covid: Professor discusses dropping isolation in the future

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In the January of 2021, the Prime Minister said that, with the vaccination programme beginning, the nation was entering the “endgame of the battle against this virus”. Fast forward to November, however, and Omicron had appeared, crushing hopes that the worst was behind us, keeping families apart at yet another Christmas, and proving that Covid, in all its monstrosity, is not in any hurry to make its retreat.

So how will this ever end? Will the virus just keep mutating and humanity forced to adjust with each new twist and turn of a spike protein?

The likely answer to this is that Covid will indeed be with us in some form forever – but not as a pandemic.

A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people” – essentially, a disease that spreads around the world.

A look at the history of other pandemics suffered by humanity shows that through a process called attenuation – whereby the severity of something is reduced – pandemics end from a number of factors, including vaccinations, becoming endemic, or withering out due to public behaviour.

Take the Spanish Flu, for example, which killed millions between 1918 and 1920. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, journalist Jessica Roy, who compiled a look at how other pandemics in history have ended, said: “Basically, it got less bad.

“We still have descendent strains of the Spanish flu floating around today. It’s endemic, not a pandemic.”

The Polio pandemic, which killed thousands of children in the 1940s and left countless more with disabilities, is an example of a pandemic solved by the arrival of a vaccine in 1955, with the illness largely eradicated today.

Then there are truly terrifying recent examples such as the Ebola outbreak, which subsided in 2016 after strict public health measures in the African countries it ravaged.

Covid, coming in an age of advanced scientific developments and rapid spread of information, is being attacked at all angles: its variants are becoming (allegedly) milder, a vaccine is in mass production, and public behaviour has been altered to prevent the spread. Surely it must soon stop dictating lives and ripping the rug out from under us?

In a blog post, Bill gates wrote: “At some point next year, COVID-19 will become an endemic disease in most places.”

He added: “Communities will still see occasional outbreaks, but new drugs will be available that could take care of most cases and hospitals will be able to handle the rest.

“Your individual risk level will be low enough that you won’t need to factor it into your decision-making as much. It won’t be primary when deciding whether to work from the office or let your kids go to their soccer game or watch a movie in a theatre.

“In a couple years, my hope is that the only time you will really have to think about the virus is when you get your joint COVID and flu vaccine every fall.

And last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “2022 must be the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He said that, as “we know the virus very well and we have all the tools [to fight it]”, it cannot continue to disrupt people’s lives and livelihoods.

He said WHO projections show that vaccine supplies should be sufficient to vaccinate the entire global adult population and to give boosters to high-risk populations by the first quarter of 2022.

The big issues to overcome were “implementing all the tools effectively” and notably, “taking care of equity, warning: “Unless we vaccinated the whole world, I don’t think we can end this pandemic.”

Elsewhere, experts have warned that businesses and jobs cannot weather another year of such extreme uncertainty.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Simon Dolan, who took the UK Government to court in 2020 over lockdown measures, said: “For 18 months the public have had their lives dictated by draconian Government rules.

“We are still expected to lock ourselves away, wear face masks, and face needlessly stringent quarantine when returning from abroad, all to protect against a variant that is already prevalent in the UK.

“Any further restrictions in the first half of 2022 will act as another barrier to getting the UK economy back on its feet and, if anything, bring more companies to their knees and force unemployment rates higher.”

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