From Pandemic to Endemic…a Gradual Transition
It’s Perhaps Time to Put the COVID-19 Episode Firmly Behind Us
There’s light at the end of every tunnel. Every good or bad thing, even the worse for that matter, eventually come to a conclusion. The end is the only truth.
After almost two years, and endless negative reports as regards COVID-19, there’s finally some positive news pertaining to the pandemic. If recent statements from eminent personalities are to be believed we are closing in on the last leg of the pandemic. It won’t be long before the coronavirus will be considered more of an epidemic, just like the seasonal flu.
It’s too early to draw conclusions, you may think. You aren’t wrong. However, what’s the harm in trying to look for some optimism in these pessimistic times. This month we had Pedro Sanchez, the Prime Minister of Spain, doing exactly that. The Spanish leader insisted it is time to start treating COVID-19 as an “endemic illness” like the flu.
“It’s a necessary debate. Science has given us the answer to protect ourselves. We have to evaluate the evolution of COVID from pandemic to an endemic illness,” Sanchez told radio station Cadena Ser recently, citing the plunging death rate amid surging infections as proof that the threat “is not what we faced a year ago.”
In doing so the Prime Minister of Spain became the first European leader to suggest upfront that it’s time to re-evaluate the virus and let people live with it. With one of the highest vaccination rates in the world Spain is now considering a pandemic exit strategy. That said, it is not the only instance in recent times where any official has suggested a re-evaluation of government strategies on dealing with the virus.
The BBC quoted Nadhim Zahawi, Britain’s Education Secretary as saying that their country is “on a path towards transitioning from pandemic to endemic.” Last week, the last remaining COVID-19 restrictions in the country were lifted while plans are in place to end isolation for positive cases. Besides, the government has announced that fully vaccinated travelers arriving in the United Kingdom will no longer need to take a COVID-19 test from 11 February.
Denmark has gone a step further as well. The tiny Scandinavian nation, despite of registering its highest numbers in a year, has opted to reopen cinemas, museums and other cultural institutions after a month-long lockdown. The health authorities in the country have been quoted as saying that the Omicron variant was milder than initially thought and that around 29 per cent of those in hospital were due to reasons other than COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Austria, which has one of the lowest rates of vaccination in western Europe, has passed a new law making vaccination mandatory for adults from February. It is the first European country to approve such a measure, even as others like neighboring Germany are mulling on those lines.
In France, a controversial new “vaccine pass” has come into force, replacing the health pass introduced last summer. Although France had a relatively slow start, it now has one of the highest rates of vaccination in Europe and a majority of the French citizens support the vaccine pass — that allows only those recently recovered from the disease or fully vaccinated to access bars, restaurants, inter-regional transport and other public spaces.
The new vaccine pass as such is an attempt to push more people to get fully vaccinated, including a booster jab. More importantly, despite the high infection rate in the country the French government has outlined a plan to lift restrictions from early February.
One of the major sectors to have suffered from the pandemic is tourism, with 2020 being an eminently forgettable year — the worst year on record. However, there’s some good news in this regard as well. A survey says global tourism is going to experience a revival even as people realize the endemic nature of the pandemic.
In fact according to preliminary estimates by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) global tourism posted a modest growth in 2021, especially during the second half. The latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer attributed this increase in numbers to rising rates of vaccination combined with easing of travel restrictions due to increased cross-border coordination and protocols.
Even as there are encouraging signs from many quarters the World Health Organization (WHO) remains a symbol of ambiguity. After doing little to either assuage the situation or for that matter delve deep into the origin of the virus the global health body is busy doing what it does best, and that is creating and maintaining confusion.
In an interview with AFP Hans Kluge, the WHO Europe director, said that “It’s plausible that the region is moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame.” The Belgian explained the Omicron variant has moved the COVID-19 pandemic into a new phase and could bring it to an end in Europe at least.
A day later albeit WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus came up with another one of his intimidating sermons, saying it would be dangerous to assume that the Omicron variant would be the last COVID-19 strain “or that we are in the endgame” as global conditions are “ideal” for new mutations.
It’s been two years of negativity and we are yet to hear any positive words from the Ethiopian. In fact in late January WHO Executive Board chair Patrick Amoth, at the body’s week-long Executive Board meeting, cut off Ethiopia’s envoy (Zenebe Kebede Korcho) as he attempted to deliver a speech criticizing Mr. Tedros, and postponed a decision on a request from Addis Ababa to investigate his actions. That said, Mr Tedros is all set for a second term, which means the world can expect anything but clarity.
Its internal politics aside, while the WHO may not yet be willing to classify COVID-19 as an endemic illness, many leaders across Europe have possibly decided to move on and focus on things better and more constructive than a disgusting virus. In no time the rest of the world will follow suit.
The transition from a pandemic to an endemic is a gradual one, but it is happening nonetheless.