Millennium Post
Editorial

Pandemic endgame?

Pandemic endgame?
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With India smack in the middle of the third COVID wave, several experts have now opined that the variant is already in the community spreading stage and is now no longer primarily spreading via foreign passengers. The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium or INSACOG recently stated that the Omicron variant is now the dominant variant across multiple metros, particularly New Delhi and Mumbai. Government health officials expect India's third wave to have a mounting caseload in the coming days. But experts also continue to insist that there is no need to panic as Omicron, by and large, has caused fewer hospitalisations in this third wave than the Delta variant in the second wave. This supposed 'mildness' combined with an increasing vaccination count in India has led to the general perception that this third wave is 'no big deal'. Indeed, a recent WHO conference may have further contributed to this perception. On Sunday, the WHO stated that, at the very least, Europe seems to already be moving towards some sort of 'pandemic-endgame' with expectations that 60 per cent of Europe's population could be infected by Omicron by March. Once this surging tide of infections finally starts subsiding, the expectation is months of COVID immunity across a large enough sample of Europe's population to make COVID a distant concern, at least for this year. WHO heads in Africa have also expressed similar optimism about the current wave peaking and so has the US' doctor Anthony Fauci who also sees an end to the current deadly wave of COVID that America, particularly unvaccinated America, is experiencing at the moment. What comes after is a period during which COVID may return, indeed, by the end of this year but it may not return as a true pandemic and may instead become a manageable endemic infection like the flu. Given all this, it is not surprising that people are increasingly taking to this weird trend of 'getting done' with being infected by COVID by trying to essentially go out and purposefully catching the virus. On social media where misinformation is spread rapidly and recklessly, those weary of the pandemic are eager recipients of such 'advice' that promises to bring normality after two years of the pandemic. But, as health experts have constantly warned, seeking out the virus to 'get it done with' is a very foolhardy and inadvisable thing to do. Though experts do consider Omicron to presently be milder than Delta, it is still dangerous enough to warrant extreme caution. Like the other variants, Omicron causes a variation in symptoms with many people exhibiting little to no effects and others suffering through severe and deadly symptoms. In short, playing Russian roulette with your own life remains a poor decision to make at a time when the pandemic is still very much raging on. That aside, it is too early to say what may happen in the future. Certainly, becoming endemic is a preferable state of affairs for a virus and COVID is no exception to this. Like the common cold and flu, the virus is expected to become a milder, more frequently occurring version of itself that continues propagating as a 'successful' virus but is also more manageable for human beings. But there are so many potential hiccups along the way. Before we get to a point of truly 'co-existing' with the virus, it could still come out with more new and unexpected variants that will serve to delay the end of the pandemic even if they don't quite have the lethal potential of the Delta variant. Already, the BA.2 sub-strain of Omicron, imaginatively dubbed 'Stealth Omicron' is causing some panic worldwide due to concerns that it could dodge even the generally reliable RT-PCR test though such fears are far from being confirmed. In such a case, most public health officials would continue advising extreme caution. But it is no longer quite so simple. Leaders and experts alike understand that pandemic fatigue is reaching its peak worldwide. There is immense political pressure worldwide for restrictions to be rolled back and for things to return to normal. Though the global economy is now recovering, there is clearly no room or appetite for further COVID shocks. And though there was hope the world could coordinate health policy in regards to this pandemic, there is clear expectation that political pressures will play out differently in different countries. While some may be able to convince their population to stick to the mask and vaccination routine for longer, others may start doling out relaxations in the unknowable hope the pandemic is already in its end-stage. What this could mean is that the virus will also become endemic in different countries at different times. Ultimately, this variation itself will delay the onset of 'normality' post-COVID as nations who have managed to bring the virus under control are unlikely to be entirely relaxed if the virus is continuing to thrive and mutate in other parts of the world.

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