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Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Really Over? Experts Disagree

Jan 3, 2023

Background

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the COVID-19 outbreak, which had first occurred in China, had become a pandemic.1 The disease went on to spread rapidly all over the world. As of October 2022, there had been more than 600 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including at least 6 million deaths.2

On September 21, 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden declared that “the pandemic was over,” sparking wide-ranging debates in the scientific community.3

Experts weigh in

President Biden’s statement was disputed by several public health experts, who argued that, considering the global nature of a pandemic, it is inappropriate for one country to simply declare that it has ended, especially when that country, i.e., U.S., is seeing more than 71,000 new cases and 400 deaths due to COVID-19 every day. Globally, nearly 500,000 cases and 2,000 deaths are being reported on a daily basis.3 Indeed, the WHO Director-General has stated that the pandemic is not over yet, although the end is firmly in sight and the worst seems to be behind us.4

However, some experts have contrasting views and believe that while we have moved past the pandemic phase, we have now entered an endemic phase of COVID-19, as reflected by the return to “normalcy” in multiple walks of life. They believe that COVID-19 will never disappear completely and that we would need to adapt to it even though this doesn’t mean that we discontinue any necessary precautions or countermeasures.3

Public perception

Experts believe that President Biden’s statements reflect the sentiments of the general public, which is now experiencing a return to pre-pandemic life following vaccination.3 However, they warn that this perception could endanger the vulnerable sections of the society, such as immunocompromised adults and those with contraindicated vaccines. Moreover, the threat of “long COVID,” long-term symptoms following COVID-19 infections, cannot be ignored.5

Global perspectives

While COVID-19 seems to be slowing down in most parts of the world, it remains dangerous, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Indeed, vaccination rates still remain low, with around 30% of the world’s population not having received even a single vaccine dose.6 The primary factors preventing the WHO from declaring the pandemic as “over” are the ongoing global death toll and the possibility of continued widespread transmission leading to the development of a dangerous new variant.7

Indeed, the current signs point towards such a trend. A new wave of COVID-19 seems to have started in Europe, the U.K., France, and Italy. In the week of October 5, 2022, the EU witnessed an 8% increase in COVID-19 cases, despite a decrease in the rate of testing.8 Some experts believe that a similar increasing trend could also occur in the U.S., given the parallels between case characteristics in the U.S. and Europe and some modeling studies.9 Meanwhile, a new sublineage of the Omicron variant, called the BF.7 variant and believed to be more infectious, has been detected in China, Belgium, Germany, France, Denmark, England, and India. This has sparked concerns of rapid COVID-19 spread in these countries.10,11

Conclusion

Overall, given the rates of disease spread and deaths — both in the U.S. and the rest of the world — it appears that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Until everyone is protected, we all remain vulnerable to new variants and seasonal changes in COVID-19 transmission. Although restrictions have been lifted in several parts of the world, experts believe that governments must remain vigilant and take adequate public health protection measures. Clinicians must advise patients to continue taking the necessary precautions, especially if the patients are older, have comorbidities, or are immunocompromised. Meanwhile, efforts should continue being focused on improving vaccination rates and identifying strategies to control transmission and treat COVID-19 effectively.

References

  1. Ohannessian R, Duong T, Odone A. Global Telemedicine Implementation and Integration Within Health Systems to Fight the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Call to Action. JMIR Public Health Surveill 2020;6(2):e18810.
  2. WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard. Accessed from: https://covid19.who.int/
  3. Is the Pandemic Over? If Only It Were That Simple. Accessed from: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/981236
  4. WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing– 14 September 2022. Accessed from: https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing--14-september-2022
  5. The pandemic is not over: We ignore it at our own risk. Accessed from: https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/3692549-the-pandemic-hasnt-ended-the-us-is-ignoring-the-rest-of-the-world/
  6. Mathieu E, Ritchie H, Ortiz-Ospina E, et al. A global database of COVID-19 vaccinations. Nat Hum Behav 2021. Accessed from https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations
  7. The latest on the coronavirus. Accessed from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/the-latest-on-the-coronavirus/
  8. COVID wave looms in Europe as booster campaign makes slow start. Accessed from: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/covid-wave-looms-europe-booster-campaign-makes-slow-start-2022-10-06/
  9. Early signs a new U.S. COVID surge could be on its way. Accessed from: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/10/07/1127017062/early-signs-a-new-u-s-covid-surge-could-be-on-its-way
  10. China Detects New Variant of COVID-19: How Dangerous Are BF.7 And BA.5.1.7 Variants of Omicron? Accessed from: https://www.thehealthsite.com/news/china-detects-new-variant-of-covid-19-how-dangerous-are-bf-7-and-ba-5-1-7-variants-of-omicron-915267/
  11. India Detects First Case of 'Highly Infectious' Omicron Sub-Variant BF.7 That Was Behind China's Recent COVID-19 Surge. Accessed from: https://weather.com/en-IN/india/coronavirus/news/2022-10-17-india-detects-first-case-of-highly-infectious-omicron-subvariant

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