“It will require pressure of some sort to move to coverage which will allow our transition into the endemic phase with no risk of health-care service overload.”
Humans are the virus’s “food”, and when a disease is endemic it means we have “changed in the sense that we all acquire some degree of immunity” either through vaccination or natural infection.
Early data has shown cases rising exponentially without a surge in severe disease, and Madhi said: “If it transpires that the hospitalisation and death rates are low compared to what we experienced in the past despite a greater infection rate in the population, then we might be heading into the phase of SARS-CoV-2 being treated more as an endemic virus.”
Even if Omicron doesn't turn out to be the milestone signalling endemicity, the longer view for many global experts is that this status will eventually be reached.
This marks a major shift from earlier beliefs that societies would achieve herd immunity and that the disease could be eradicated. These two terms are no longer part of the global conversation, and earlier this year, in a paper published in science journal Nature, experts spelled this out.
“Eradicating this virus right now from the world is a lot like trying to plan the construction of a stepping stone pathway to the moon. It’s unrealistic,” said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.