The Covid-19 pandemic began in December 2019 in the city of Wuhan, China. From there, it spread quickly all over the world, infecting until now over 287 million people and killing more than 5.43 million. During these two years, the virus suffered numerous mutations, some of them, like Delta or Omicron, proving to be more transmissible than the wild type that emerged from China.
With the manufacturing and approval of several groundbreaking vaccines at the end of 2020, people hoped that the disease could finally be controlled if not even eradicated. However, due to the slowness of vaccine uptake worldwide, particularly in developing Asian and African countries, new dangerous variants emerged, such as the particularly severe Delta in India in April 2021, and the highly contagious and immunity-evasive Omicron in South Africa in November.
The emergence and rapid spread of such variants shattered hopes of quickly achieving herd immunity and eradicating this disease. Increasingly more specialists argue that we will never be able to be completely rid of SARS-CoV-2 and urge us to learn to live with it instead.
However, Omicron’s advent and fulminant spread may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Although countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, or Spain are setting record after record of daily new cases, with infections cropping up in many vaccinated or previously infected people too, hospitalization and death rates appear to be lower than in the case of Delta.
Moreover, South African medical experts claim that their Omicron-fueled wave has already passed, leaving behind significantly lower hospitalizations and casualties. If Omicron turns out to be less virulent, it may quickly bring high levels of herd immunity all over the globe at much lower costs than previous variants did.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the “tsunami of cases” brought about by the rise of Omicron could mark the end of the “acute stage” of the pandemic. And while there is a high possibility that SARS-CoV-2 will remain with us forever, the pandemic could soon turn into an endemic, with the coronavirus becoming an ongoing part of the world’s infectious-disease landscape, while causing less severe illness and death. Whether and how soon this will happen is still not clear, and remains dependent upon a variety of factors, including vaccine rollout, the development of new drugs, and the possible emergence of new variants.
“Populism, narrow nationalism and hoarding of health tools, including masks, therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines, by a small number of countries undermined equity, and created the ideal conditions for the emergence of new variants”, said WHO’s Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus. “This is the time to rise above short-term nationalism and protect populations and economies against future variants by ending global vaccine inequity,” he urged.