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Is the COVID-19 pandemic already over?

Is the COVID-19 pandemic already over?

For Topol, that judgment must be based on the trajectory of the pandemic. “I look at where we were in the summer of 2021: we were down to 12,000 cases [diarios] in the United States and the death toll was over 200,” he says. “If we were there,” says Topol, he would feel comfortable declaring the pandemic phase over. “But we’re nowhere near that.” Topol also fears the new strains may cause another wave of cases and hospitalizations, allowing the outbreak to prolong.

For Lone Simonsen, an epidemiologist at the University of Hrøskeld (Denmark), seasonal outbreaks, as well as a lower number of deaths, could help indicate when a pandemic might end. If the number of cases skyrockets in the summer, when the virus has fewer opportunities to spread, “we’re still in a pandemic,” he says. That was the case in 2021, when cases were driven by the Delta variant, and last summer with the Omicron. So for Simonsen, wait and see.

But Denmark, Spain and other European countries with high vaccination rates lifted most pandemic mandates and restrictions months ago, as COVID-19 has not caused serious illness or overwhelmed hospitals. However, there is chronic covid is still a concern, says Simonsen. And no country has officially declared the end of the pandemic.

(Connected: How long does COVID-19 stay in our bodies?)

Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, argues that the pandemic phase is largely over, given that hundreds of millions of people have already been infected with the virus, that there are vaccines and treatments that can prevent for serious illness and that COVID-19 is unlikely to completely disrupt the healthcare system as it once did. “It doesn’t mean that all of a sudden things will go back to how they were in 2019. It doesn’t mean that COVID-19 will disappear and all operations will stop,” he says. “That means there won’t be a very high threshold number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”

What those acceptable levels of hospitalizations and deaths might be is a political decision, asks David Heymann, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK and former head of the WHO’s infectious diseases group.

Say it’s over when it’s not

Nuzzo and others worry that declarations such as the end of the pandemic may be unnecessary.

With the implementation of targeted Omicron stimulation in the United States, “I’m very concerned that this sends a signal to millions of Americans who are at risk of serious illness that they don’t need to be boosted,” says Nuzzo. “It’s very, very unfortunate.

It is also concerned that these statements could lead to further reductions in access to free COVID-19 testing and treatment, especially for people without health insurance.

Topol worries that it could also undermine incentives and funding to accelerate the development of better COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, jeopardizing the health of millions of people who are immunocompromised or at risk of long-term COVID-19.

This is not the time to make bold claims about the end of the pandemic, he says. “But it’s time to be bold to accelerate to the point where we can say: we’ve done it, we’ve done it.”

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